Apparently, my readers are obsessed with evil.
Given the choice between book reviews, romance, and villains, the votes always came up in the bad guys’ favor, and I can’t say I blame you. Villains are fascinating. Their motivations, their schemes, their fashion sense(*cough* Megamind *cough* Loki*cough*)…It’s all endlessly interesting to those of us not inclined to try enslaving the human race.
Not only are they interesting, the villains are a vital part of any story. Sometimes more so than the protagonist. But they’re infinitely easier to ignore when it comes to characterization, backstory, and well…everything outside of describing their lair.
In doing the prep for this post, I put together a list of my favorite villains and the things learned from them. The first on that list?
1. Loki (and also Gollum!)-A good villain has a goal.
And making your hero/heroine’s life miserable doesn’t count (unless it’s revenge or some such). Neither Thor or The Avengers would have been half as interesting if Loki’s only motivation had been evil for evil’s sake.
In a lot of the books, movies, and graphic novels I’ve come across, the antagonist has indeed had goals. But they were cliched, weak, and pretty much just an excuse to get in the protagonist’s way and provide a convenient obstacle.
Ideally, the villain’s story should be just as deep as the protagonist’s, just on the opposite side of the coin. The same rules apply. Even if it’s not necessarily shown, your baddie should still have the same type of character journey–from inciting incident to coming away a changed person–as your protagonist, including having a serious want. It doesn’t even have to be a valid (to a sane person) goal, as long as the villain believes in it and wants it with all his/her black little soul.
Take Gollum, for example. His devotion to the One Ring consumed him and drove him to do anything to find it again when it was stolen from him. Try to find something equally addictive for your antagonist. Power, money, fame, revenge, or the last potato chip–it really doesn’t matter as long as they want something.
2. Mr. Gold – A good villain loves something.
While watching ABC’s Once Upon a Time, I’ve found that I like the villains a lot better than I do most of the heroes–though some of that may be more due to the choice of acting talent rather than characterization (Hello, Captain Hook!).
In the case of Mr. Gold, almost his entire journey from ordinary man to the Dark One is revealed through flashbacks, and one of the recurring points in his development is love. It tends to get him in trouble a lot, but it’s also what makes him such a strong character. The betrayal of his wife–his love–helped drive him to magic and the darkness that came with it. His later love of Belle is…well…it’s trying to change him, but that’s…well…that could be going better, but I digress.
Everyone–evil incarnate or not–loves something, whether it be human, animal, place, thing, or idea. It’s what makes them human, more relatable, and can help give them goals(see above). Unrequited love, in particular, has made quite a few excellent villains.
It gives the reader the slight hope that perhaps the baddie in question could change, that maybe they still have a spark of humanity left–and it makes it all the more tragic(and fun for the writer) when they don’t.
3. Megamind (And Luke Castellan)- A good villain has a reason for being who they are.
I love Megamind. He’s just so freakishly awesome and bumbling and brilliant and he does what I would probably do were I a supervillain (e.g. fail spectacularly). And he has good reason for being as jaded as he is. Being mocked, misunderstood, and generally hated for being different will do that. Add in the fact that he was raised in a prison and groomed for villainy, and you’ve got a pretty good reason for his turning out the way he did.
Judging by my research, you don’t just wake up one day to find that you’ve become a full-fledged villain with rayguns and henchmen. There are always reasons. Revenge, love(as aforementioned), hate, or greed. An old hurt or a new desire.
And in general(excluding Megamind), even with reasons, the change from hero to villain is still gradual. As in the case of Luke Castellan from The Lightning Thief. He may have started and ended a hero, but that middle bit was pretty sketchy. With the mental scars of abandonment, enough time and toil to get bitter, and the perfect opportunity, poor Luke snapped. It can happen to the best of heroes, shockingly enough. And that’s what makes for a good twist.
4. A good villain does not do harm without reason.
I could not think of a villain to fit this one, sadly. I feel like a failure as a geek. But, moving on…You really shouldn’t let your baddies run amok when it comes to dishing out mayhem and destruction. As tempting as it is to let them push the limits and EVIL ALL THE THINGS, it can begin to border on the ridiculous if all your villain does is inflict torment for no apparent reason other than making your hero a martyr.
You guys have any to add? List your favorite villains in the comments!