Friday, September 22, 2017

Villainous Struggles

Writing villains might come easy to some people, but creating a well-rounded, believable, (hopefully charismatic) villain is something I have to put a lot of careful thought and planning into. Protagonists and love interests often jump into my mind fully-formed, like Athena popping from Zeus’ head, but villains evade me. I think it is because for so long, I put my characters into categories such as those I just mentioned: protagonists, love interests, family members, friends and villains. And the reason why my villains just weren’t working was because I was treating them as such.

That’s when I realized…


So, you know that sexist, pig-headed idiot who just hollered at you when you walked past them? In their head, they’re not the villain of that situation. They will go back home to their own story with their own justifications (however misguided) for shouting at people on the street. There are millions of personalities in this world, but most people don’t go around believing they’re evil. No one does evil deeds for evil’s sake. Take Voldemort, for example, who is pretty evil in my opinion… even old Voldy has a tragic past and quite a sad story following him into adulthood. He has reasons for believing the things he does and has been shaped by the events that have befallen him. OK so his twisted personality has meant that those events have turned him into a no-nosed, back-of-Quirrell’s-head weirdo, but the point is that we, the reader, understand to a degree what contributed to Voldemort’s villainy.

Many of the most iconic villains in books and TV have their own stories, which is what makes them so engaging to the reader/watcher. Having someone do ‘bad things’ isn’t enough to make your reader want to see their demise – we want to know their goals so we can rejoice when they’re scuppered, and their reasons for being the way they are so we can understand them in a sense.

Another brilliant example of this is Cersei from Game of Thrones. I won’t give away any spoilers, but we can all agree that Cersei is an awful human being. She has done atrocities that definitely place her in the ‘evil’ category. However, she is so damn interesting! She loves her children and family and puts them above all others, and is completely unapologetic about this fact. Despite her fortunate upbringing in terms of being ‘born well’, she has been discriminated against her whole life because of her gender, being forced to marry someone she despised instead of inheriting anything of her own right. Cersei has suffered hardships in her life, and therefore we understand why she has hardened into the person she is, even if we hate her!

When it comes to writing your villain, I would think of the word ‘antagonist’ instead, which derives from the Greek tragedy Antigone. Antigone is actually the protagonist of her own story, but she is seen to Creon as an antagonist as she doesn’t want to obey his rules and goes against his goals. This shows that your antagonist doesn’t have to be ‘bad’, they just need to want to stop the protaganist from reaching their goals.

Essentially, writing a good baddie is just like writing your goodie – you need to know who they are, what their history is, why they act the way they do and what they want to achieve.

Make us hate them. Make us understand them. Make us love to hate them. And make us rejoice when your protagonist triumphs over them.

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