Friday, March 19, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Villains that Work!

Whoever said that celery helps with stomach acid and heartburn was spot on! Thanks ever so much to whoever pointed that out to me. It saved my life last night. Okay, I wasn't dying or anything, but you know how us writer types tend to draw out the minor and petty worries.


This has been a good week. Hard, but good. Chapter 8 is well underway--practically done--except we've run aground on a small passage in the middle, comprising no more than two pages. As a result, I thought it would be fun to give my column today about that very issue.

How do villains work? Do they do bad things for the sake of being evil? Are they simply out there to get us, because that's what villains do? Maybe, but that's silly if you think about it. Does anyone in this world wake up in the morning, stretch their arms as they sit up in bed, and yawn, "what a nice day. I think I'm going to take over the world! MUahhahahaha!"

No. not really.

Even the most recognized "villain" of our world, Adolf Hitler, as terrible as the things that he did, had reasons for his actions. Some people don't know that he was raised by an abusive, drunkard father who beat him in front of his mother. You'd think, somewhere along the way in young Adolf's life, that something snapped? He defiantly needed therapy, not political power. What he did was terrible and not justified. Ironically, it's perfectly fine in Fantasy, since no one really gets hurt, in real life. But now I'm off topic. Let's get back to the advice!

Now, if you've ever tried to create an antagonist, you probably know that this is the most interesting and most difficult character to develop. In a way, that's how it must be. In another way, you want to make your villain more complicated than your protagonist. Think of all the Sci-Fi and Fantasy stories that you seen and read. Don't you think the villains are the coolest?

For me, I've devised a three villain type list that I like to call; The Three Villain Types. I know. It's not the strongest title I could come up with. Anyway, here are my Three Villain Types . . .

Just Cause.
Villain of Circumstance.

The "Just Cause" villain is evil, plan and simple, for no given reason whatsoever. Safest to say, this is your weakest villain type. Without any reason to be evil, you wonder why this person exists. For the sake of being evil? For me, this is my least favorite villain. Kinda weak. Not fun. This is not to say that you can't make a "Just Cause" villain work. If you remember Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, would you not agree that Maleficent is one of the coolest baddies of all Disney films? If done right, this could work. You can get away with a "Just Cause" villain in a children's book or a middle grade novel, but readers of YA and Adult want something a bit more tangible.

The "Purpose-Driven" villain is what it sounds like. They are doing what they do because . . . they have to do something. They have a goal in mind and they must fulfill it, no matter the cost. No matter what that goal is, this villain feels that they are doing what is right. Some of my examples for a "Purpose-Driven" baddie are fairly popular, like the Emperor in Star Wars. He wants a "safe and secure society" for the entire galaxy. So . . . he's willing to provide this service through military force, making the galaxy conform to the Empire or get blown up via Death Star. I would call Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn villain, The Lord Ruler, a "Purpose-Driven" baddie as well, because (spoiler) the reason for his prolonged millennial existence is preventing an even greater evil from emerging. The Lord of the Rings' Sauron, Harry Potter's Voldemort, and Narnia's White Witch are excellent villains with purpose. You will note, too, that something happened to these people, before the story began, that motivated them to act.

Now for my personal favorite, "Villain of Circumstance." These are the most complex and most beloved villains EVER! Why? Because (if done right) you feel sorry for them, even if they're doing the most terrible things. These are the baddies with deep psychological baggage associated with them, the type of baggage that's better left at the airport. Ultimately, these baddies are goal driven as well, but what sets them apart from the above mentioned is that they are not willing agents of evil. They are doing bad things because they have to, and they usually suffer a tragic end or redeem themselves. A great example is Darth Vader, who was tricked into thinking that the powers of the dark side could save his wife's life (which was never in danger, really, but that's the nature of temptation, right?). Obviously, we know what happened there. Anakin pledged himself and started to do the Emperor's bidding, to become "stronger" in the dark side (by depending on hate). My absolute favorite "Villain of Circumstance" of all time is Prince Zuko from the recently "aired" series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. He's a villain, right? You're made to think so, but behind that gnarly scar on his face, he's got a good heart. This good heart got him in trouble with his father, The Fire Lord, who eventually banished Zuko unless he could capture the Avatar. Only then could Zuko return to his kingdom, reclaim his honor and his right to the throne. Sounds heavy, doesn't it? If you haven't seen this character, you ought to check him out. The transformation that he undergoes is one of the most gut-wrenching and enjoyable to watch. Zuko is a new type of villain, one which has helped me mold a couple of my own. I can't wait to write their stories!

There you have it. In short, a good villain should have a believable reason for being there. Otherwise your readers will shrug and move on to the next book in their reading list. That's all the advice I have for you, for the being time. Hopefully I can get my villain working again (the "Purpose-Driven" type) and finally get started on some new material. Have an excellent weekend. As always, I hope this advice was helpful to someone, somewhere.

My name is David, and my head got shaved like a French Poodle.

Edit: How embarrassing . . . spelling "advice" wrong in my post title . . .

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