The Art of Creating Villains

As we grow up we come to realize that life is not like an episode of Barney and that not everyone in the world is going to love us or want to be our friends. Some people are just plain mean, but how do we translate that into fiction and still make those characters seem real? If we just write someone who is mean and nasty 24/7 in the end they will seem boring. It would almost feel like every time your antagonist appears your reader will say “oh let me guess, (insert antagonist name here) is going to say something mean and stupid”.

Evil is as evil does

Evil is as evil does

Part of what makes villains seem so interesting is that their motives and goals are hidden in many cases and so they have the ability to keep the readers guessing. Also, as many antagonists are not lead by traditional moralities it gives you as the writer more options when it comes to character choices. However, like many things in writing it’s a balancing act. If you write an antagonist who constantly behaves in wildly amoral ways in every scene it defies the imagination of most readers. Most real people are made up of both good and bad parts and so if you try to make it seem as if your antagonist is 100% bad than it can make them seem unbelievable. You could really only make a character like that work if you found a way to make that type of behavior seem natural for the character.

 

Iago's nature is not hidden from the audience but is hidden from the protagonist.

Iago’s nature is not hidden from the audience but is hidden from the protagonist.

For me Iago from Othello is one of the greatest antagonists in history because he has the ability to hide his evil motives from the protagonist. He cannot hide his evil nature from the audience because, by the usage of asides and soliloquies, the majority of the action is told through his inner monologue. He could be described as being totally evil, but because his true nature and motives are hidden from all of the other characters it only serves to give him an added level of intrigue.

Nils Bjurman- the epitome of the malignant narcissist

Nils Bjurman- the epitome of the malignant narcissist

One of my favorite villains in modern literature is Nils Bjurman from Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The character puts the protagonist through numerous scenes intense physical and mental abuse  which could make him seem unbelievable. Larsson combats this by hiding Bjurman’s motivations so his vile nature is connected to a mystery and by giving the character the hallmarks of at least two legitimate and recognizable psychological disorders. Nils Bjurman is one of those characters that the reader thinks could exist, but is really glad they don’t.

Who are some of your favorite antagonists? Do they attempt to hide their motives from the protagonists or are they more open about their dark side?

Exercise of the Day

Exercise of the Day

Exercise of the Day: A Lesson in Context Exercise

For this exercise you need to take the first line of dialogue from your favorite film and create a whole new story with that as the first line. Totally change the context of the line with new characters and a new plot.

Have fun with this one and I will see you next time!!!

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2 Comments

Filed under Books, Characters, Creative, Creative writing, Ideas, Imagination, Literature, Nanowrimo, Novel Writing, Novels, Playwriting, Plot, Reading, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing

2 responses to “The Art of Creating Villains

  1. Then there are villains like Voldemort, who are 100% evil, but remained memorable to so many kids because of the threat he posed to Harry. His real motivations never changed and they were clear to the audience and the characters, but with every book came a new, complicated scheme that he created. We weren’t left in the dark about who he was or what he wanted. It was a matter of figuring out how he was going to try to kill Harry and take over the world and whether Harry could stop him in time.

    Great post! Have you seen “Maleficent” yet? If you did, do you think she worked better as a character with or without a backstory?

    Like

    • I haven’t see Maleficent yet but I WANT TO SEE IT SO BADLY!! I actually went back to the Brothers Grimm’s version of Sleeping Beauty and it was basically a story about what happens when you don’t have enough tableware to invite the biggest diva in the land. In truth it was a bit dull because the motivations of the villain are small and they don’t really have a personality, they don’t even have a name. So the Grimm tale showed me what happens to the story when the villain is totally devoid of backstory. I’ll be sure to get back to you when I’ve seen the movie.

      Like

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