Everyone loves the hero, including the writer. We spend so much time in the heads of our leads that they’re like family to us. We know our hero’s favorite foods, that time that they skinned their knee when they were six, all their little loves and hates. All those little bits might not make it into the book – but they do help us to flesh out our protagonist in a way that makes them seem to leap off the page breathing and ready to slay dragons.
On the other hand our antagonist, the villain, only exists to stick their foot out at the right time and trip up our hero. It’s easy enough to tell yourself and your reader that the reason that the villain is such a douche is simply because they’re evil – except that breaks the cardinal rule to show and not tell. That’s why it helps, while you’re gathering together you’re notes for your new book, to ask the same questions of your villain that you ask of your hero.
The questions can be bane or profound, it’s more important to ask them and record the answers, than what the original question was. The answers will help to frame the villain less as just evil and more as a person with hopes, desires and goals that are no less valid than the hero’s though they are at complete odds with the hero’s. Which leads to a richer more textured book – something both writers and readers will appreciate.
An example of this wonderful little tool at work? When I asked one of my villains, who was their first love, I not only discovered their wife – a woman my villain loved with such all consuming passion it would have destroyed them both if she hadn’t been a wonderful person herself – but to revelations about how he was raised. He was born heir to a very rich old family, raised by a series of tutors and minders, never given open affection nor given any long term companions to foster even the tiniest of relationships with. He’s intelligent, wealthy, ruthless and relentlessly fierce with his affections which leads him to more and more desperate, even insane acts as first his beloved wife dies and then his son becomes fatally ill.
None of that is likely to make it into the book but it does color the way I’ll write this character, making him more human and, hopefully, more interesting. Give it a try on you’re next writing project, ask your villain a few pointed questions and see if they don’t rise to the challenge of showing you their human side. So don’t be afraid to ask you’re bad boys and girls some heavy questions!
You can read more writing tips and general blather from Y.K. Greene at Blargle Splect.
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