Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Psychoanalyzing Your Villain

My dear YA writers and readers, there's one thing you and us MG folk can both boast about:


Of course yours tend to be either suave and sociopathic or brooding and murderous while ours tend to lean more towards the vengeful and vindictive or the so-evil-it's-almost-comical side of villainy.

So, what makes an awesome villain, you ask? It's hard to pinpoint exactly. We all know examples of cool villains. Voldemort is pretty awesome. The Red Queen is my personal favourite. President Snow. The White Witch. Mrs. Coulter. The Wicked Witch of the West. Count Olaf. I could go on and on and on.

What do all of these baddies have in common? Why, they come from a place of pure, unadulterated imagination, of course! The advantage we have as writers for young readers is that the scope for imagination is soooooo much greater. It's no surprise that many of us spend just as much time dreaming up our villains as we do our heroes. If you're me, you might even have an image of your villain in your mind before you even think up the story!

Our villains aren't cookie cutter either. They're so dastardly that you want them to die a nasty, miserable death. Yet, they're so cool that you might even fall in love with them. They make you laugh. They make you seethe. The point is, our villains make the readers feel something for them. That's what an awesome villain is supposed to do.

Getting into the psyche of your villain isn't an easy task. They are evil for a reason, you know! Villains have wants and desires, often complex, just as heroes do. They have back stories and relationships too. These are the things you must fish out of your imagination when creating your villain. What makes them tick? Why do they do what they do?

The key here is this: your villain should NOT be just a plot device. He or she or it should be intimately ingrained in the story.

Here's a little exercise I came up with that might help give the ol' imagination a boost when it comes to writing your antagonists. It's called "psychoanalyzing your villain." For this demonstration, I'll be using the Red Queen from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


The following is the log of Dr. Fudder Wacken, psychiatrist at the Wunderlund Psychiatric Institute for the Criminally Insane.

"I'm here with patient #336, also known as the Red Queen. She's a strangely-proportioned woman with a very large head and... uh... far-reaching posterior. She was brought to the Institute after a manic episode in which she attempted to behead her entire court. I will now attempt to get to the bottom of her disturbances by asking her a series of probing questions.

Red Queen, what makes you happiest and why?

Patient's response: A freshly offed head, of course. Why? You have the audacity to ask why? I don't need to explain myself to you. In fact, off with your head!

Red Queen, what makes you more angry than anything in the world?

Patient's response:  Insolence! For instance, the way you're staring at me right now, as if we're equals! How dare you! You didn't even bow when I entered the room! I'd off your head right now if I could.

Red Queen, in your opinion, what makes a good companion?

Patient's response:  Obedience. A strong back to rest my weary feet on. Muscle for carrying out my bidding. And I guess it would be nice to have someone tell me I'm pretty and not just be kissing my behind.

Red Queen, if I told you to say one nice thing about your worst enemy, what would you say?

Patient's response: Alice? Never! Well, I suppose she'd make a lovely head spike. And she's particularly well-spoken... for a foolish girl. That's why I hate her.

Red Queen, if you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Patient's response: My head. It is much too small for my body."

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