I’ve been meaning to update this blog more often, but I have been failing. I wanted to get a writing post up before I did another photo post. Keep some kind of balance. So here’s my musings on one of the biggest elements of almost any story; the villain. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure how much sense I’m making, but I think the various points are coming across.
When writing a villain, there’s different things to consider, and I’m just going over a few of them here.
First off, the most important thing for any villain; a motive. I admit I have been guilty of writing a villain who’s just sort of evil because they are, and then throwing in something like ‘oh, uh… they want money’ when I realise they have no motive. But you can’t really do that, because the character’s motive affects how they act. If you look back on a story, and think about it from the villain’s point of view, everything should make sense. Sometimes you think of something that seems like it would be a cool thing or a good way of showing the villain’s villainy, but then you think back on it and realise that it actually in no way helps them achieve their goals, and, sometimes, actively hinders it. So you really need to have their motive clear in your mind from the beginning. Or be willing to go back and do some serious redrafting, whichever way you prefer. But everything should be logical in the finished product, at least if your villain is supposed to be behaving logically.
I can’t make a point without adding an ‘unless’ to it, can I? But that’s writing, rules only have to be obeyed until you can come up with a good way of breaking them.
So, there’s all different motives a villain can have. Some are more complex than others. Some villains have some deep seated reason for behaving why they are, and some goal which may not be a bad thing in itself, while others just want money or something. I feel I should feel like the deeper motives are better, but to be honest, I don’t. As long as the motive is something which makes some kind of sense and steers their actions, I don’t think it matters if it’s somewhat shallow. A deeper motive does add complexity to a villain, but that can also be added in other ways. A shallow motive doesn’t make a shallow character.
And, of course, the other most important thing; their plan. After all, that’s the traditional story model; the villain makes a plan, the hero has to stop it. So it has to be something decent, if the plot’s going to hinge on it.
I don’t think this is one of my strong suits, if I’m honest. I need to put more thought into it beforehand, I think. If you don’t put proper thought into it first, and just have the villain acting generally villainous because that’s their job, then you’re going to need to do a lot of fixing later on. Once again, their actions have to make sense at least by the end of the story.
One of the biggest things to be careful with is big twists regarding what they were really up to. Like it turns out they actually had a completely different end goal to what the reader and heroes thought, or that something the heroes do to stop them ends up being what they wanted all along. Those are great if you pull them off, but like any twist they can’t just be thrown in to have a twist. People act based on what they want to achieve, if you write a villain as wanting to achieve one thing then suddenly reveal it was something different all along, their actions should still make sense. And if turns out they wanted the protagonists to act in a certain way, then they have to been able to have some assurance things would go how they wanted. Sometimes there’s reveals that everything is going exactly as the villain planned, but there’s no way the villain could have guessed it would go that way.
That rule applies to every character really; the story still has to make sense from perspectives other than the main character, but it’s especially important when that character plays a pivotal role, which the villain generally does.
Another thing to think about is how sympathetic you want your villain to be. To be honest, I’m not a fan of overly sympathetic villains. They’re not a bad thing, and I do give my villains some sympathetic traits, sometimes – I don’t mean humanising traits, even the most evil of villains should generally have at least a couple of those – but I admit I do like my villains to be villains. Plus, I feel truly sympathetic villains are a tricky thing to write; if they act too villainous they lose all sympathy from me, and I don’t really care how sad their backstory is, or even if their ultimate goal isn’t bad. And sometimes I read books where it feels like we’re supposed to sympathise with a villain because of these things, but then they never actually show any remorse over the evil stuff they do.
Actually, I think the main issue is that I’ve come across a lot of works and people that equate ‘sympathetic’ with ‘redeemable’. I find myself doing this sometimes, but they’re not the same thing, a villain being sympathetic doesn’t mean they’re going to become a good guy. So yeah, I think my personal experience has jaded me a bit there.
Although I think I do also just like a villain to be bad, as well. I mean, I don’t think villains should always just be totally evil with no redeeming features and horrible goals. Pure evil villains can work but they shouldn’t be overdone, and I’ve noticed they often seem to work best when they’re either some kind of sidekick to the main villain, or one of multiple villains throughout a series. Some context where their being so truly evil makes them stand out where they otherwise mightn’t have. A main villain should, I would say, be at least a bit more complex.
There’s also that some villains have sympathetic goals, their ultimate intentions aren’t horrible. But if you want them to be sympathetic, you’ve got to be careful. As I mentioned, if they’re too bad then it doesn’t really matter how noble their motive may be. Well, no, it does, because a villain who ultimately wants to achieve something good isn’t as bad as one who doesn’t but is just as bad in their actions. But ‘not as evil as they might have been’ doesn’t mean ‘sympathetic’.
I think that’s another of my issues. I’ve come across too many bad attempts at writing a sympathetic villain. Works where the author seems to be under the impression they can just throw in certain things that will make their villain automatically sympathetic. And yes, I may feel some sympathy, but not enough that it automatically lessens their villainous actions. And it doesn’t have to, once again; ‘sympathetic’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘redeemable’, but again, they do seem to get equated a lot, and even if the villain dies it will still be like ‘they weren’t really so bad’, when yes, yes they were.
Humanising traits, I briefly mentioned those. I think some people view these and sympathetic traits as the same thing, but I don’t. I’d say humanising traits is just stuff like giving them loved ones, or soft spots for certain things. I have a tendency – not something I do all the time, but something I do enough that if someone else read everything I’ve ever written they would notice- to make the villains related to the main character or another major character. And more often than not when I do that, the villain does actually care about the character, and usually wouldn’t hurt that person. But I don’t like it when stuff like this is treated like it makes the villain automatically redeemable. Like caring about one person makes them sympathetic.
Again, sympathetic versus human. If the villain happens to be an animal lover that doesn’t make them any less of a villain, it just makes them not a black hole of awful things. In fact, humanising traits could be used to make their other actions look even worse. If they’re nice to animals but don’t care if they hurt people that’s pretty horrible. And they if they have a person who they truly love – in any kind of way – but are fine killing other people no matter how innocent, that’s just awful. It could almost make them come across worse than a villain who’s just blanket evil and doesn’t care about anyone or anything.
You could also make the villain more human by giving them little quirks and hobbies and sillier flaws. Not too many, you still want people to take them seriously – unless you don’t. You’ve got to be careful with this. I said ‘sillier’, but that doesn’t mean comedic, I just meant some little things which you wouldn’t really expect such a character to have. And there are some hobbies you can give a villain which will ensure the reader simply won’t be able to see them as a true threat, which isn’t really fair – you can have the most ridiculous hobby in the world and still be pretty awful – but that is how it is.
So that’s just a few thoughts on this subject. Thanks for looking at my blog, I’m going to try and get some more posts out a bit more rapidly this time.