(And now for one last post to get underway before the madness of NaNoWriMo begins and all else is abandoned for an inconceivably long time. I shall attempt to post during NaNo, but that might prove very difficult indeed.)
What makes a good villain? Here is a question which has perplexed and bewildered me in my writing since the day I began. Ever since my first villain, a vile sorcerer bent on...well, destruction and ruin in the very broadest and most undefined terms, I have found myself struggling to sculpt a likeness of a big bad-guy who is believable and inspires the correct emotions in a reader. With every book I read, every tale I pen, I try to capture this elusive idea of a 'good' villain.
Really and truly, what is it that makes a bad-guy so rotten and horrific and just plain bad? How do you write a character which the recipients of your story will loathe with an appreciative amount of passion? How do you forge the grim mindset and cruel vitality of such an evil persona?
Let us consider, for these posts on what makes a good villains, two of quite possibly the most infamous story-villains in the whole history of the world:
When I think 'good villain', my mind instantly turns to Maleficent, the Disney name of that dreaded scourge of the tale Sleeping Beauty. I love and loathe her at the same time for varying reasons: I love her because she's a cool villain and at the same time is so evil that I am jealous she is not my own character. I loathe her because, well, because she's Maleficent. She is, in many ways, the epitome of a good villainess.
Consider then, if you will, Moriarty, the great archnemisis of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Smart, conniving, slimy, and creepiness personified.
Yet at the same time, there is a subtle difference between this villain and Maleficent. Whereas she radiates a diabolical evil, Moriarty displays a more sly detestablility. Where the faery sorceress is a dragon, Moriarty is a rat. At the first you think he's not so dangerous, until you realize that a rat can go all the places a dragon cannot. Dragons use the weapons of fire and fear, rats tend to employ prowess and plague.
The villains of our stories come in all shapes and sizes, colors and desires, ways of destruction and reasons for attack. The villain might be a crippled, hobbling, ugly creature with no sense and no cunning, but it is their hatred for the good in the story that gives us insight into their depravity. It isn't enough to simply have the villain destroy things and start wars, for while this does make them undesirable, it will generally fail to inspire the recipients of the tale to cry 'boo' every time the enemy shows their face. (And yes, that's what story-tellers tend to aim for. It's far more difficult than one might realize, this balance of creating loveable and detestable characters all at the same time.)
There is this one, prevalent aspect of what makes a character the true villain of the story, I believe; and a good many villains of any story fall under this category in one form or another. Here, at the very core of so many of our favorite stories where good battles evil we find that the heart of the villain hates the heart of the hero. Or, the villain hates what the hero loves.
In the Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson, the villain remains almost completely invisible, but you learn of his evil ways and you learn to loathe him because he seeks to destroy the Jewels of Anniera—the very things the heroes of the tale seek to protect.
Let us return now to Maleficent. The evil fairy finds Briar Rose to be deplorable in her sight because of her own shunning by the princess's parents. She hates the royal couple and so seeks to destroy the one thing they love most, the child which holds their best love and their bright-future.
Moriarty, on the other hand, despises the efforts of Holmes to solve and stop crimes in London. The British crime lord gloats in the television series: “Every story needs a good-old-fashion villain.” There is a strange relationship between Moriarty and Holmes in whichever game they play. There is a sense that they need one another but there is still, at the foundation, this idea of hating what the hero loves.
So many of the best villains are built around this point, and most every villain of any story can be traced back to a semblance of this relationship. (Usually the exceptions to this idea are more your anti-heroes and anti-villains, which, as most writers can tell you, delight in departing from every set of rules or logic ever constructed.)
The villain of my NaNo this year remains elusive in many respects. I can't quite get a grasp on who he is, yet I know what it is that the heroes of the story hold dear and this is the very opposite of what my villain loves. Thus, this enemy also hates the heart of the hero. (Needless to say, with this much discussion on such a strange topic as what drives our villains at their very core, I've been doing a lot of thinking on this subject.)
What about your own villains? What drives them? Whatever the plot of your tale, can you trace down to the deepest roots of the villain's heart? How does what you find relate to the goal of your hero? In what other stories do you find this thread?