Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Writing Villainously for Fun and Profit

Writing Villainously for Fun and Profit
Amy Chrstine Parker Author of Gated adn Astray

Amy Christine Parker is the author of Gated and Astray, both published by Random House.

Writing Workshop: Writers on Writing | 60second RecapOf all the characters I create, I enjoy writing my villains the most.

I practically cackle with glee whenever I start dreaming up all of the awful things they will do to my other characters. Maybe that’s because in my real life I am so well-behaved that it feels ridiculously fun to be bad…even if it is only on paper!

Creating villains can be fun, but getting them right is not easy. Here's the key: having a thorough understanding of what a villain is, and what makes him compelling. Now for the purposes of this post, I’m not talking about antagonists in general, which can be not only people, but places, creatures, or things. I am talking about humans (or beings who are very similar in nature to humans).

Writing Villainously: Four Rules for Wickedness

A villain by definition is: “a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness.” To this I might also add that they are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain that devotion. But what does this mean? How do you show this wickedness and make it work in your story?

For me, there are four main things to keep in mind while creating a villain. If I manage to nail all four I know I am on the right track.

1. Make your villain real.

Your villain has to seem authentic. If your character is all evil all the time, he won’t be believable. He will be a caricature instead. No one, not even Charles Manson, is evil 24/7. That’s not to say that your villain has to be nice, but he does have to do some “normal” things. Seeing him in action in more mundane circumstances makes the moments when he is being bad all the more interesting.

Gated by Amy Christine Parker: Writers on Writing_

60second Book Review:
Gated by Amy Christine Parker.

For example: The Governor in The Walking Dead manipulates people and kills without thinking twice, but he also runs a refugee town, very civilly eats Spaghettios with an apartment full of people, and has not one, but two, romantic relationships. Now, granted, he can’t keep up this façade of normalcy for long, but we need to see a side of him that makes us not exactly like him, but on some level relate to him, so that he makes sense.

2. Make your villain worthy.

There is nothing worse than a villain who doesn’t worry readers and put them on edge. We all know that in most stories the hero will prevail and the villain will get his comeuppance. But if readers are not at least a little anxious about our hero’s ability to thwart him, there’s no need to continue on. Villains who are smart, maybe even smarter than the hero, compel us to keep reading, because defeating these kinds of foes seems all but impossible and we are dying to know how it will be done.

3. Make your villain plausible.

Your villain's got to have a reason for being evil, even if that reason only makes moral sense to him. Even if it is deeply flawed. Readers don’t have to agree (and, hopefully, won't agree) with your villain’s reasoning, but they do need to see some kind of logic to it. If your villain's running around killing for killing’s sake, your story better be along the lines of a slasher flick, because in any other genre (including most other types of horror) this type of villain will weaken your plot and destroy the tension.

When I was creating Pioneer, my villain in Gated and Astray, I tried hard to make each violent act something he could twist into something he could “justify” to his followers, if not to the reader. Pioneer truly believes he will save the people in his Community from the apocalypse and is willing to go to any extreme to do that. When you stop to think about it, isn’t this almost a mirror image of the way a hero thinks? Isn’t he someone who wants to save the people he loves, or complete a mission at all costs, and when he faces adversity, isn’t he willing to go to extremes to overcome it?

Upon closer examination, the real difference between heroes and villains comes down to the kinds of extremes and how the character feels about them. A willingness to take a “noble intent” and use it as an excuse to do evil without remorse is what makes Pioneer the villain and not the hero. This is not to say that your villain’s intent has to be noble; it just needs to be noble to him.

4. Make your villain a mirror.

A mirror of your hero, that is. Your villain's wants and needs should parallel your hero’s and be equally matched in intensity. The best battles are between two people who both really want to win. If one of the antagonists isn’t as invested as the other, the fight is already over. Your hero will go to great lengths to save the day. Make sure your villain will go to great lengths to ruin it.

Villains may not be the main focus of most stories. But they are an integral part, and giving them complex and nuanced character traits can capture our imaginations. Then villains become actual people—ones we can’t stop wondering about, who both fascinate us and make us afraid.

Amy Christine Parker is the author of Gated and Astray. She writes full time from her home near Tampa, Florida, where she lives with her husband, their two daughters, and one ridiculously fat cat. Visit her at amychristineparker.com and follow her on Twitter @amychristinepar.

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