Friday, January 21, 2011

Bwahahahaha! Creating Villains: Devious, Dastardly & Demonic

Conflict. It’s what drives your story. And who’s behind the wheel of the conflict-mobile? The Villain. The Adversary. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is creating villains/adversaries that are interesting, believable and, most importantly, that offer a challenge serious enough to engender uncertainty that your heroic team can, indeed, be victorious in the (HEA) end. Your villain has to fit the story. Your villain has to fit the genre. Some genres – thrillers, and romantic suspense and dark fantasy – permit the creation of the most blood-curdling and fiendish of antagonists. Romantic comedy will have an adversary – but it will most likely be a villain of the Dabney Coleman sort (but the triumph over his sleazy boss character by the 3 ladies in “9 to 5” was just as cheer-worthy as was Harry Potter’s over Lord Voldemort). Your “villain” can be man, woman, child, even a creature like Cujo or the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Or it can be a force beyond human-kind: A plague, a rogue wave, an asteroid hurtling towards Earth or a runaway train. Man against nature has always been a theme of literature and works beautifully in romance fiction as well. Most commonly, of course, are villains in the form of a being set against our heroic pair. What makes a great villain? Well, he can’t be too weak. If we don’t believe that the hero is genuinely challenged, even more, possibly incapable of vanquishing the baddie, the entire fictional house of cards falls down. Whether it is the suspense of escaping the clutches of a murderous madman, where the suspense and tension is of the life and death variety, or keeping your reader on the edge of their seat as they wait to find out if the unscrupulous business competitor will mean the death of the heroine’s dream, or adversely affect the quality of life of your hero, this suspense and conflict drives your story forward. Have you ever read a book where you just didn’t care? It was so obvious that the hero would prevail because the villain was too stupid, too weak, or too ineffectual to be a serious adversary? Your hero is a larger-than-life fella, and your adversary needs to be, too. (This goes for your heroine, too!) Like your protagonists, your villain must have internal and external conflict. Goals, desires, dreams and powerful motivation. Because he is going to break all the rules, abandon any ethical considerations and in many stories, kill to achieve what he wants. The expression, “any means to an end” sums up your villain. He must be intriguing to the reader. As the hero and heroine foster loyalty in the reader, so must the villain foster loathing, dislike, distrust, anger, fear. Yet we must be involved in the cat and mouse game, and cheering at the end. The fun part of creating a villain? You are free to bestow upon him all those things you CANNOT have in a hero or heroine. All the negative qualities, the quirks, personality disorders and dastardly impulses. Your villain can be mean, greedy, ugly, smelly and have foot fungus. Extreme works great with villains, where it might be cartoonish with heroes. Pick one from column A and one from column B and have a great time creating a character that your readers will love to hate. He may have many talents, but he’s still inferior to the hero (or heroine). He may have money, power, minions, weapons – but he will be overcome by the heroine’s innate goodness; by the hero’s loyalty, courage, and compassion. By the couple’s dedication, true love and teamwork. THAT is what will vanquish him. THOSE qualities are the ones that will lead to his downfall, regardless of his other advantages. There is one area of argument about villains and adversaries. Personally, I subscribe to the badder, the better in my villains. I love cheering as they crash and burn. For me it ups the sense of good triumphing over evil, of justice prevailing. But some folks say that even the darkest villain should have a sympathetic aspect. Something positive. Like Hitler loved dogs, they say it makes the villain more human and believable. Of course, this will also be dependent upon your plot and how you want the battle to impact your heroic pair. A serial killer who was ferociously abused as a child – how will your hero feel after he’s killed the killer? Will the heroine feel pity at the demise of her tormentor? It all depends on the journey you have planned for your hero and heroine. Last but not least – relationship. The big “R” applies not just to the hero and heroine, but their relationship (whether the adversary has set his sights on one, the other, or both) with this adversary. It must be evolved, explained, portrayed with equal focus. Bonds, ties, motivations, goals, external conflicts, internal conflicts – all need to be explored with the same intensity so that the battle of hearts and minds that you are setting forth unfolds in all its complexity and richness and immediacy for your readers. Who is your favorite villain? What books have you read that kept you on the edge of your seat until the curtain came down? What adversary have you created that made your story tick? (Note that I use the term villain to encompass all classes of adversaries, from the psycho serial killer to the cold-hearted business competitor. Bloodshed, or no, they are the foil of our heroes, the heroines or couples. He [she, or it] is the challenger that they must battle, and best, at the culmination of your novel.)

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