Hello! Welcome to the Heroes and Villains Blog Hop, organised by Martin Bolton to run over the May Bank Holiday weekend Loads of people are blogging and giving away fabulous prizes, and I’m one of them.
You can win, as a prize of your choice, EITHER an e-arc of “The Art of Forgetting : Rider” OR a signed paperback of “The Feline Queen”, so there’s something for you whether you prefer physical books or virtual ones. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning is leave a comment in the comments section telling me who you favourite fantasy hero or villain is (ETA – It doesn’t have to be one of mine!), and I’ll pick a winner on May 10th, so don’t forget to check back to see if you won!
I’ve decided to blog about what I think makes a good fictional villain. People who have read my books have commented on how good (or bad) my bad guys are – Valery Northpoint, Ammaline Carey, Dru… But what is it that makes a bad guy good at being bad?
I asked this question on Facebook a while back, and a lot of people talked about how compelling Dexter was in “Dexter”. I admit I still haven’t seen it; serial killers aren’t really my thing, but I know I probably should check it out at some point. The general consensus is that Dexter is a brilliant bad guy; concerned for his family, yet capable, almost simultaneously, of cold-blooded murder without a hint of conscience.
I feel strongly that, in order for a villain to be really compelling in their badness, he or she has to be relatable. Readers had no time for Lord EvilBlackness*, who wants to take over the world and destroy it for the hell of it.
As an aside, THINK about what you name your bad guys. It’s very unlikely that any parent would name their child Evil Blackness, Deathweilder or Foulness (although in some cultures – Cambodia for example – children can be given an unpleasant first name like Rotting to scare off evil spirits, but the child is usually addressed by its middle name). Parents tend to give children names that denote strength, beauty, grace or intelligence, not slime, murder and rancid breath** If you haven’t thought about this before something like Cassell’s Dictionary of First Names can be very useful.
Anyway, I digress. What the readers I spoke to wanted from their baddies was personality and history – what made Dexter, or Lord Darkevil, or Valery Northpoint, the way they are? How do they think about themselves, and about their own acts? Are they aware of their weaknesses, or blind to them? Drusain (Art of Forgetting) is driven into bullying by a need to conceal his own inner weakness, something he despises about himself*** It’s important to bear in mind that everyone is the hero of their own story – villainous guys and gals don’t think of themselves as “bad”. It’s very useful to look at a story from the point of view of the antagonist to see it as a whole.
Readers also want a villain they can sympathise with, either because of their back story or due to their personality or charisma – psychopaths are often especially charismatic individuals – think of Tom “Talented Mr” Ripley. There has to be something about them that’s likeable, both for the reader to empathise with, and to make their acts of evil, when they occur, even more shocking in contrast.
Someone who is pure evil for the sake of being evil, with no discernible motive or agenda, is hard to relate to. No matter how much the reader boos and hisses, they also need to care about what happens to both sides. A hero is only as good as his antagonist. A strong villain provides a worthy opponent for your protagonist to struggle against, and villains who are emotionally manipulative or interestingly flawed can also tug the reader’s sympathy and provide a sense of ambiguity that will add an extra layer to the book.
Never forget that characters, good or bad, are first and foremost PEOPLE (even if they aren’t people – non-people need to have recognizably human characteristics (The Daleks are always more interesting with they go slightly off message and show fear or panic, or some kind of repressed emotion) You need to have your villains display the same mixture of good and bad traits that everyone has. Writing baddies can be a wicked lot of fun. They allow a writer to explore the dark side of human nature, as well as dreaming up horrible tortures for them to inflict on the poor innocent heroes! A well written villain can linger in the readers memory long after the affable hero has ridden off into the sunset with the gold and the girl…
*Please note – I have no intention of ever naming a character “Lord Evilblackness”.
** I’m looking at you, J K Rowling…
*** Spoilers, sweetie!
There are loads of other people blogging on the subject of Heroes and Villains this sunny weekend, and here’s a mass of links to their blogs – be sure to check them out because they will also be offering fabulous prizes!
ETA – The winners are STEPH and URB – congratulations! Drop me a line and we’ll sort out your prizes!