Villains!

I love a good villain. Sometimes I love a villain so much, I find myself rooting for the wrong team.

There are a thousand different ways to create a villain.  I'm of the camp that there's not a wrong or right way to do it, just the wrong or right way for YOUR story. Each way of creating a villain has strengths and pitfalls, so hopefully this can help you (and me) avoid them.

Handy Dandy SCALE OF EVIL


EVIL LEVEL HIGH. Understanding low: 


This is the villain Tim Curry will play. This is the villain whose prime motivation for doing the evil things is because the things are evil. And they are evil. So...you know, they are going to do that thing.


Strength of using this character: Ooh boy does it feel good to see this kind of villain defeated.

Think zombie movies, or virus villains, or aliens who are just evil as is possible to be evil. The movie Battle Los Angeles used this kind of villain. Super evil aliens and the heroes, this group of marines, were doing the awesome real life stuff marines do, but without any guilt, justification, or questioning. There's a clear line between good guys and the villains. You get to have violence, explosions, and all that fun stuff, but with no hand wringing. ( I can't be the only one to watch James Bond kill extras and wonder if that person had children, can I?)

Years ago I beta read for an awesome book with a minor villain who was an evil teenage popular girl, who was just nasty for no reason. I commented that this character didn't feel like a character, she felt more like an obstacle, Real people aren't that nasty, at least without a reason, so I suggested clarifying her motivation. When I read the final version, my friend wisely didn't listen to me. She didn't give the character any empathy or clarity. If anything, she made her even more evil. This character had no character arc, but we were able to see the hero's character arc because of her. At first the hero was cowed, and then she bristled, and then stood up for herself, and it was so satisfying because you didn't care about the bad girl at all.

Weakness of this character: I also don't remember that character's name. I also had to google marine fighting aliens because I didn't remember the name to the marine's fighting aliens movie, or a single detail about them. In fact, the more evil the villain is, the more righteous the heroes are, but if you get too perfect, a hero can turn into propaganda, or worse, turn boring.

But this... this is so satisfying.





EVIL LEVEL HIGH/ Understanding level medium: 


This is the sweet spot Voldemort level of villains. Super bad guy, killer of children, totally needs to be defeated, possibly killed, but he is who he is for an understandable reason.  He wanted power, since he was powerless as a child, and sold his soul to get there. We understand him, but we still want to stop him.


Strength of using this character: High satisfaction level at ending, believably of actions and motivations.

Weaknesses of this type: It's been done before. Like a lot. Like so much it's easy to push it into a trope, or for a story to feel too familiar. So you might want to keep searching to find an understandable reason for the bad guy to be a bad guy that hasn't been done a thousand times.

Also these villains have to be gone a lot (Possibly to a villain conventions) or else the reader is going to start understanding them too much. As a writer of these kind of villains, you have to walk a line and not have the villain be too understandable, because to understand someone means to have sympathy for them, and defeating a sympathetic villain can lessen the satisfaction.

which leads me to...

Evil level medium/ UNDERSTANDING HIGH: 


This is the Sue Sylvester level of Villain.


Strength of this character: At first it's SO AWESOME. These characters have their own moral code, but they get to do stuff that good guys don't get to do. These kind of characters are fascinating, and just understood/good enough that you get why they are doing these awful things you could never get away with doing. They start to grow, because that's what understood characters do, and then they are brave, ballsy, and awesome...but they've left a hole in the story.


Weakness of this character: The awesome doesn't last. Once you understand and like said villain, the story now has no villain. Which means the story has no conflict, so you're left with a choice. One, the villain can go right back to his or her evil ways, but then they are obnoxious, because it's like why don't you just grow, you darn stagnant character?! Or else they are replaced with someone who ends up a lesser copycat, because the story has a character based hole, so you need to find a replacement to fill it, but then the awesome character is still there, but without a purpose, or a job to do.

One solution, is to give that awesome character a different job to do. Let them be a love interest, a martyr, or a wisecracking sidekick, and find a COMPLETELY different villain, even if it means breaking the format and location of the story completely.

But also this can happen...
Or you can lessen their level of evil, and increase the understanding and do this...

Evil level low/ UNDERSTANDING HIGH: 


This is actually my favorite level of villain, and it's really rare to find stories like this one. But when they work, they really work. This is when the villain isn't evil (necessarily) they are just on opposite sides.

Take this example. Our hero, a young woman training in magic. Our villain, a prince, who has been taught his whole life to protect his sister the future queen, so when the future Queen goes to The White Tower to train in magic, he goes to train to be her protector...Or Warder if you like.

The Sister and the Hero meet, become best friends.

Hero and Villain meet. They fall in love. Would be HEA, except The White Tower splits when the DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER is killed. Our hero, we'll call her Egwene, chooses one side and they secretly elect her to become the NEW DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER.

But our villain, Gawyn, can't find his sister, and chooses to side with a different DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER Elaida, because she was the adviser in his mother's court.

This kind of villain often works because outside forces are at cross purposes. So the characters aren't really bad guys, they are just on different sides. You want to make sure both sides are understood, but I advise giving the reader a clear side to root for.

His decision makes complete sense and is in line with his character, but choosing to support Elaida leads him to bad action.  He kills friends and innocent people, because they chose a different side.

The more morally complex choices he had to make, the more he convinces himself that the choice that he made was the right one.

Egwene made sacrifices herself, including risking her entire life, so she is certain that her choice was the correct one. So we have clear battle lines.

Now imagine with me that they go to battle, and Gawyn killed more people, and made more morally complex choices until he is standing in front of Egwene with his sword drawn, and he knows that the only way to stay in the right (mentally) would be to kill this impostor DIFFICULT TO SPELL LEADER, but he can't, because LOVE. And then he realizes all of the horrible things he's done weren't actually right, and he collapses under the guilt, and Egwene forgives him, and LOVE saves the day.

SATISFACTION LEVEL High!

Strength of choosing this character: Villains don't have to be bad. Their goal just needs to be contrary to the goal of the hero. But when they lose, and they switch sides, it can lend weight to the satisfaction at the end. For justice to be satisfied, though, the hero can't kill a likable villain.


Weakness of this Character:  How much the bad guy needs to be punched in the face is directly correlated to the amount the reader is cheering on the hero to punch the guy in the face. So the more likable a villain is, the more likable the hero has to be, or else maybe the reader will switch sides, and not be satisfied with the hero winning. The hero will have to work twice as hard to win the side of the reader.

Can you imagine if at the end Egwene decides she can't be a strong hero and let him go, so she has him killed for his crimes? That's possible too, but then wouldn't that mean she's unjust leader? So then maybe her side wasn't the correct one? That can't happen either. Because they both are technically heroes, they both need to win, and they both need to lose.  Like maybe Egwene would have to lose her right to lead, or her pride, and her anger. There has to be a cost to the hero, and justice for both sides needs to be satisfied.


Up next,

Evil level low/understanding level low:


This is one of those times in a story where there's isn't a villain. This could be a story with quieter stakes, or a story about a guy trying to push a rock up a hill. Or someone trying to get medicine but who has to travel through a storm to do it. Or a contemporary novel where the likable hero is also a teenager who is their own worst enemy.

Strength: When the villain is a storm, or a hill, or teenage hormones/immaturity, there's no soul wringing guilt when you defeat the bad guy. Sometimes it's just a story of grit, or of friendship, or of learning a real life lesson. It can be very relate-able, and create awesome heroes.

Weakness: It also can leave you feeling unsatisfied, because the ending just kind of happens, and you're left saying, oh so that's the end of the book then?


A storm can't be defeated.

But choosing stories like this sometimes feel the most realistic, because we the reader know this, and it lends a level of realism to the story, and it's also awesome to know these characters will keep living. But with this kind of story, make sure you add a character goal or a plot arc that can really satisfy the needs of the story. Make sure the story feels done. Even if the bad guy gets to live another day.


Back to the handy dandy scale of evil...

Evil level Medium/ Understanding level low:



Usually, when a villain is evil level medium/understanding level low, they are a trick villain, or what I like to call a SURPRISE JERKS villain. This is when you think one person is the villain, and then all of a sudden the curtain drops, and a semi-likable minor character is like, "Surprise, jerks! It was me the whole time."
Image result for Atlantis gif

This is also the kind of villain in murder mysteries, or the kind of villain who is a part of the team, and then near the end, betrays the hero.

The problem with a character like this, is that readers love to be surprised, but they hate to be tricked. So you need to have some clues as to the why the villain is doing this, otherwise it's going to seem like a mean trick. But if the clues are too obvious, then there will be no surprise. Treat it like a murder mystery. You want the reader to know who it is, but not KNOW KNOW who it is.

STRENGTHS: The reader often really gets to know this villain. The betrayal, can have a strong emotional arc.

CONS: The reader knows this villain, so they have their own opinions. Captain America secretly being a member of Hydra is going to piss off a lot of readers, Make sure the evilness makes sense. But not too much sense. If the reader clearly sees the bag guy is the bad guy, but the hero still trusts them, then the reader is eventually going to think your hero is an idiot. Make sure you show lots of reasons for the hero to stay.

It's another fine line. These kind of stories can work, but you have to watch for creating a one note villain, because there isn't time to play all of the notes and still surprise the reader.



EVIL LEVEL HIGH/UNDERSTANDING LEVEL HIGH:


The Anti-hero, where the POV character is actually the villain.



Strength: Gives you cool characters. Like amazing, understandable, despicable, broken, fascinating, heartbreaking characters.

Weakness:

No seriously, when done well, this gives you stories like Sweeney Todd or Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog.

 But because they do evil things, you have to let the readers sense of justice be satisfied. so there needs to be consequences to their evil actions, which means yeah they are probably going to die and take people down with them.

Which is way better than when it is done poorly.

I recently read a NAME WITHHELD book which didn't work for me for this reason.

The POV character was awful. She kept yelling and fighting with likable people, doing awful horrible what-are-you-doing?-you-are-so-stupid things, and then she got a Happy Ever After ending, and my sense of justice is like...no.

There was no consequences. She stole people's souls. She stole a baby's life...Yet she gets to ride of into the sunset with her love? The injustice burns, even though it's been a few weeks.

That's the main thing I think, that I hope you get from this post, (other than my strange love for gifs) is that if you break a readers sense of justice, they won't be satisfied, and they might actually get annoyed.

But if you use the sense of justice, then you get a satisfactory AWESOME ending.

Even if it means everyone dies.

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