Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Villain of the Piece

Late again, I see. Bad poster, no biscuit!

So, um, characters... We all love to talk about our Heros and Heroines. Thinking about what makes them tick--and what makes them run screaming for the hills--is part of the fun of writing, at least for me. Hopefully they come alive for us in ways that make it to the page and into readers' hearts.

But I'd like to talk about another character. One that doesn't get quite as much attention in these kind of discussions. The Villain. I know a lot of stories don't have or need villains, but I'd like to talk about stories that do. There's nothing more disappointing than a story with a bad guy (or girl or...thing) who is supposed to be truly evil, but that never really fleshes him/her/it out. The Hero and Heroine are well rounded, with strengths and weakness, goals and motivations -- all nicely done up with a bow. But the poor Villain never takes the stage to show us what he's made of -- why, he might as well be Snidely Whiplash for all the dimension he possesses.

Wait. That's almost an insult to Snidely (who's now sulking over there in the corner), because even Snidely might be considered "just a guy with a weird fetish." 1

All joking aside, I've often wished writers would give as much thought to their Villain as they do to the "good" characters. A Villain who is one dimensional, who only exists to put roadblocks in the path of the Hero/Heroine is a disappointing Villain, indeed.

The best quote (paraphrased) I've ever heard (and wish I could remember the source) in regards to Villain character creation is: "A Villain doesn't think he's a villain -- to him, he's the hero of the story."

The stories I write all tend to have villains of one kind or another. None of them are completely evil. Each one of them believes his/her actions are justified. They all believe they're the real heros of the story.

And you know what? I let them.

Have any favorite Villains you'd like to share?



chanceofbooks said...

Great blog. I don't do villains. Sigh. I wish I did as I think my plots would be richer for them, but that doesn't seem to be the way my muse delivers. Instead, my "villain" is often the h/h and what evil they wreck upon themselves.

A big part of my WIP centers around the hero's dead friend. At times the "ghost" in the room functions like a villain, but it's really the hero who keeps standing in the way of his own happiness using the dead friend as a smoke screen. I think Heroine sometimes feels like she's battling against the dead friend, so perhaps there's more there to be explored.

I *do* have a few future story ideas that may let me stretch my villainous leanings. GREAT blog!

Paty Jager said...

Fun post, and while I've had some villains in my stories, they are always peripheral threats, though that will be changing as I delve into murder mysteries.

Alice Sharpe said...

Debbie -- I loved your blog. I think the kind of villain you're talking about is the phantom, for instance, in Phantom of the Opera. He fits your paraphrased quote to a T.

My current villain is from eastern Europe and having him talk and not sound like "Peggy" in those ads where people call customer complaint and get a burly guy who says, "Hello, my name Peggy," is really hard. Everything the guys says sounds like a cliche' which trivializes him. Tricky.

Christine Young said...

I love villains. They bring a richness to the story and they are my favorite to write. I don't have to be PC when I write my villain. I'm not sure they ever have redeeming qualities. But that is something to look at--hmmm... Food for thought. Great post.

Genene Valleau said...

Good post, Debbie!

I also like the quote, "A Villain doesn't think he's a villain -- to him, he's the hero of the story." The first time I read this, it was an aha moment that gave me a new perspective on how to write villains.

My villains usually do have a redeeming quality or two, and I try to give some insight into what led them to the choices they've made. This is especially true in the villain of the second book of my series--or he's probably the freshest in my mind because that's the book I'm editing right now. :)

In my first book, the "villain"/antagonist who really gave the heroine a bad time, turned up in a later book as the hero of his own story. His redeeming quality: he was a pushover for kids. In my mind, anyone who loves kids and pets can't be all bad. But it was a balancing act to portray him as the "bad guy" in one story but make sure his redeeming qualities shone enough to give him hero status in his own book.

Alice, love your comment about customer service calls where a burly guy says, "My name is Peggy." Guess I do miss some fun things by not watching TV. :)

Alice Sharpe said...

Genene -- U-Tube to the rescue!



Genene Valleau said...

Omigosh, Alice, these are hilarious! But...I think I've talked to Peggy...

Sarah Raplee said...

I agree with you about villains 100%! That's one reason I'm not a big fan of serial killer villains in romantic suspense stories: many writers say 'serial killer' and that's all the character development the reader gets. Talk about one-dimensional!

Villains in stories need their own GMC, their own strengths and flaws, and their own values.

Another great post!