Sunday, September 19, 2010
Hero or Villain? What makes a baddie bad?
(image:curtesy of flickr,Creative Commons,Leo Reynolds)
As much as I love a good hero - I also love a good villain.
A villain by definition is "2.the main evil character and antagonist to the hero (in a novel or play)" [Collins Concise dictionary 2001]. According to the dictionary, the word villain is derived from the latin villanus which means worker / villager on a country estate [villa]. I find this a little ironic because most villains in modern literature are usually quite rich and powerful. Therefore, I think it more likely that the word "villain" is actually derived from the latin word vilicus means "overseer or manager of the estate" - which fits in much better with the modern use of the word.
All villain's share one particular characteristic - they all take unfair advantage of someone - repeatedly and selfishly. The person being taken advantage of is usually (but not always) subordinate in someway to the villain. They may have less money, less Magic, less freedom or less brains. The villain is usually always powerful in some way. In most Fantasy romance, the villain is wealthy and has some kind of hold over the hero or heroine.
I personally do not like truly evil villains - as I've said in previous posts I don't like writing miserable or maudlin tales. Making a villain truly evil means he/she must have done something truly unconscionable, without remorse, and those kinds of acts are not something I particularly want to write about! It seems to me that in today's day and age it's a race to have the most hideous villains and stories. The horror content in some books is absolutely grotesque, and to me - it's unreadable. So my villain's, although horrible and mean, are understandable and are (to some degree) forgivable through a harsh penitential act.
So how can you make a villain bad, if he's not going to do anything extraordinarily heinous? Well, it depends on what your hero and heroine think is heinous. To put it simply, the villain's actions have to be life threatening to the other main characters. They've got to hate and fear him.
Like most of my characters, I like my villains to also be a bit quirky and entertaining. Villains usually are a little delusional with visions of grandeur or world domination and I like them to be interesting too. Ulterior motives need to be woven through the text. Hints as to how they came to be the ubervillain will make your villain believable - if not likable.
Physically, I don't think it really matters what your villain looks like. He could be a black hearted Adonis, or a warty old man with breath to boil your eyeballs. A baddie is bad through actions not looks.
A good villain (how's that for an oxymoron?) which ever way you look at it, should be the stimulus in both breaking your hero and heroine apart and getting them back together. Your villain, whilst reeking havoc and getting his come-uppance, needs to work with the story create something with tension and intrigue - and finally create that happily ever after.