Welcome back, my inklings, to Writamins! An article series designed to get you pumped, get you thinking about your craft and get you writing with my very own brand of condensed writing nutrition.
Now we all want to write stories that pop off the page and there’s a lot that goes into it but at the very center of it all is the characters. If you want people to come along for the ride and love every minute you need characters that will provoke an emotional response. If your readers love and hate the people on the page then they’re really into it. Drawing out emotional investment from your readers is necessary to giving them the best and most exciting experience possible.
So today we’re gonna talk about characters your readers will love to hate. So start thinking villainous thoughts, everybody, cause we’re gonna take some Vitamin V!
Vitamin V: Villainous Villains:
Exercise: Take your favorite character (could be your own or from a book or show you like). Come up with their antithesis, whether they have an enemy already or not. Invent the person that represents everything your favorite character stands against and write a flash fiction piece just for that villain. (Your favorite character doesn’t need to be in the story for this evil exercise.)
Now for the active ingredients of Vitamin V!
8 Quick Tips For Villainous Villains
1. Know your villain’s overall goal, what are they obsessing over when they’re off page? Their actions should push their agenda whether in secret or out in the open. People, objects and places that no longer play into the villain’s plans can be discarded callously or kept close for later usefulness depending on the villain.
2. Find the lynchpin between the hero and the villain. There must be an inescapable reason for your villain and your hero to collide. Merely having opposed ideals does not necessitate conflict. Teammates can have opposed ideals, it doesn’t make them destined foes.
Conflicting goals concerning the same person, place or thing, however, do necessitate a decisive battle. Whether it be a social conflict about how the new kid in school is being treated or a full out mounted dragon war with spears of flame to decide the fate of the Castle Whitehollow, that’s up to you!
3. Great villains strike heroes close to home. For example, when a villain comes after a hero’s school, friends or family readers respond emotionally as if they are the ones threatened.
4. A truly fantastic villain is one that would have made a wonderful hero if circumstances were different. Your villain cares about something. Find out what it is. A great villain would see himself as the hero.
5. Villains must be credible threats. If a villain constantly has their plans foiled and never makes any progress toward their goal there will be no excitement in the final climax of the story. Their loss will be a foregone conclusion.
6. Villains don’t need to kill for the threat to be real. Once a character has died they can’t change, they can’t grow, they can’t move the plot. Basically death for a fictional character is the last thing they can ever do for the story. Use death sparingly or lose its potency. Life and death should be the ultimate stakes, not just the tool to show whether or not a character is dangerous or evil.
7. Villains who capture, wound, and terrify can be more powerful at rocking the emotions than villains who merely kill.
8. Great villains are never evil just for the sake of it. Their desire for their goal must be stronger than their fear of the consequences of violating laws and social norms. If a villain feels they have nothing more to lose they can act freely. Villains with real lives, jobs and families are also fascinating because they have to go about their villainy more carefully.
A villain represents humanity unchained. Like it or not, evil and selfishness are a part of what we are. Your villain was once an ordinary person that was swallowed up by the desire for their goal.
Until next time, stay creative!
Robert JV Christensen