When someone says to me “villains”, I immediately think of a moustache-twirling Brit in a suit stroking a white cat. Or a Brit in general.
And while I have it on good authority my British Accent is sexy (well, the Canadian girls I spoke to seem to think my “Received Pronunciation” is), there is more than one British Accent in Britain (which consists of Scotland, England and Wales, who all have their own local variants).
And, of cause, there is more than one way to write a villain.
Enter Villain, Stage Left.
What makes a villain? And how do you write a good one? I hear you ask.
Well, first, your villain needs to be a person. He needs his own goal and a damn good reason for doing whatever it is he’s doing.
Take the Templars in Assassin’s Creed. Well, Rogue, in any case. The Colonial Rite wants to make the world a better place, mainly through improving the living conditions in the Colonies. And Shay Cormac, the protagonist, wants to ensure Achilles Davenport doesn’t destroy the world by blindly hunting down the Precursor artefacts. And the Assassins would, under Achilles’s mentorship, destroy the world through their ignorance of the artefacts’ power.
A Villain is, quite simply, just someone who opposes the hero’s goals and viewpoints.
A Hero is the guy we join the story with, the one whose story it is we’re reading. This is a grey area, morals, in general, are a grey area. I, on the morality alignment chart, am Tempered Evil. Because I’m indifferent and out for my own personal gain. (A helpful chart I found on an RPG forum describes it as “Save the puppy” (Good), “Leave the puppy to its fate” (Neutral) and “Kill the puppy” (Evil), and “according to principle” (Lawful), “according to need” (Tempered) and “according to impulse” (Chaotic). So, I would “Kill the puppy according to need”.)
Many people would give a Freudian excuse for why the Dark Lord Hamish is out to end the solar system. Examples include, his parents don’t love him enough, people bullied for his name, and now he wants to pay them back in kind. I say, think again.
This is not the end-all reason. Think why. Why is Dark Lord Hamish unloved by his parents? What precise trigger caused him to think that ending the solar system is a good idea?
Also, come to think of it, Clark Kent is a hero because, why? No, your hero’s backstory needs to be better than I love humanity and want to save it.
Your villain is the hero of his own story. Think about that.
Why Villains Matter
Dark Lord Hamish matters because without him impeding Good Steve’s plans, there is no story. Creating a cliché villain does your story no good, and there are many reasons as to why this is the case. I shall name a few:
- Why destroy the world if you live in it? This makes no sense. Logic and reality are great and keep your readers believing your story is, at the least, plausible.
- Your hero’s primary goal should not be to “stop the bad guy”. Just as the bad guy’s goal is not to destroy the world for no good reason. Logic, again, plays a part in reasoning.
- Villains are the product of blame, circumstance and society’s standards. Newscasters mention someone who does not live up to expectations and we see this as a bad thing.
Creating a decent villain, one who could be a mirror of the hero, ramps up the conflict and tension in your story. Harry Potter could have been Lord Voldemort had a few things had been different. Also, Game of Thrones is great for grey and grey morality with characters who have similar goals but different methods.
Or, if that doesn’t work for you, relatives make for more drama.
Clary Fray and Valentine Morgenstern differ on ideas and treatment of Downworlders. Haytham Kenway believes in the Templar cause and as such his partnership with his son, Ratonhnhaké:ton, falls apart.
* If you’re wondering, Ubisoft says it’s pronounced Rah-doon-ha-gay-doon. But Achilles addresses this in-game saying he’s not even going to pronounce it and gives him the new name “Connor”. Ratonhnhaké:ton goes by Connor for most of the game. *
But what’s this all mean? I don’t care about villains, they’re there to be beaten.
I’m sorry, love. You should care.
You should care because your villain is the reason we have a story at all. Your villain has dreams and aspirations beyond the story. You should care because a well-crafted villain is the difference between Twilight and City of Bones.
- Twilight sucks because of Bella. But beyond this, we’re not introduced (not counting the prologue) to the bad guy until late in the game. We’re not introduced to the story’s primary goal until the book is almost at the end, I thought.
- City of Bones has a whole supernatural world and international laws to abide by. This is made clear the first time Clary Fray gets fully involved with the Shadowhunters. And someone is breaking these laws, which is the main conflict.
If anything, this helps you keep on track of who wants what and why, so you can write it into your story. I’ve repeated this a thousand times, I’m sure, but your hero’s main aim is to not beat the bad guy.
You should care about your villains because they are more than just someone to make trouble. Decent villains are the ones we understand, and this scares people because it makes them think how easy it is to become a villain.
As Heath Ledger said in The Dark Night, “Just one bad day.”
What have you learnt from this?
I hope you’ve learnt something from this ramble. Here are the highlights:
- Villains are people, first and foremost. And as such, they deserve goals and motivations befitting this status.
- Without a villain, there would not be a hero. Think about this. (And on politics. Ooh, I said it.)
- Having a villain who is relatable to your readers is better than one they cannot understand.
- Make your story goal clear. Make your character’s personal goals even clearer.
Now, go forth and think about the implications of cliché villains.