Villains – Part I: I Love it When You’re Bad

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There’s nothing like a good, bad…um, gripping villain. The best ones (in my opinion) are flawed and complicated. They have perfectly rational reasons for destroying a country’s economy or inflicting turmoil upon the Earth. We almost buy their rationale. Almost. If it weren’t for the murder of innocents or their utter disregard for everyone else, we’d actually feel pity for them.

Strong motive is a key element to creating a great villain – A character’s back story is a valuable tool in a writer’s kit. After putting the rough draft of a story to paper, I take the time to summarize each of my major character’s lives. It could be one page or thirty, depending on how much fun my mind is having inventing that fictional person. Ninety-seven percent of what I write in a character’s back story will never be seen by anyone else but me and the cat (and he’s not very interested anyway). Why go to so much work? The back story helps me answer the burning question readers will expect satisfying explanations for:

  • What drives the villain? What traumatic event in their life was the turning point to push them over the edge?
  • Why do they want to conquer and/or destroy that particular (world, business, school, fill in the blank)?
  • Why are they set on capturing, stopping and/ or killing the hero?

One of the best current century examples of a sympathetic villain is Professor Snape from the Harry Potter Series.  J. K. Rowlings masterfully created this embodiment of spite and resentment. Snape left no doubt he loathed James Potter and poured a little of that acid out on Harry as well. It’s no wonder. Snape was horribly bullied as a child by Harry’s dad. We are convinced of Snape’s evil just as Harry is and share his concern when Snape is welcomed as part of their secret rebellion. What we don’t find out until the end of the series is how much Snape loved Harry’s mother. He becomes the tragic hero of the series in his love for her.

Final Thoughts – What about the villains that are just bat crap crazy? Take the classic Bond Villains. Can anyone really relate to Dr. No and Goldfinger? I love each and every one of the 007 flicks, but the movie makers took a few liberties with the original storylines from the book series. Dr. No is a frustrated scientist who suffered a terrible accident. Goldfinger is all about the greed. Both of these are powerful motivators. If you read about the bat crap crazies (the memorable ones anyway), you’ll find they have recognizable motives too.

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