So last week I spoke about making your hero interesting. This week I’d like to flip the coin and give some attention to your villain.
Just as your protagonist needs to be relatable and understandable, so too does your villain.
Something I should have mentioned in my last post: You, as a writer, need to rethink your ideas of good and evil, and whether or not they actually exist.
Doing this can really open up your characters, allowing the line between hero and villain to grow so thin that it barely exists any more.
You also need to redefine what you believe the word Antagonist means to you. Your antagonist doesn’t have to be a horribly evil wizard who wants to take over the world. He doesn’t even have to be a person. Your antagonist could be a sword, or a ring of power. It could even be an aspect of your protagonist’s personality.
The only thing your antagonist HAS to do is cause conflict.
In the story of Smeagol and Deagol from Tolkien’s ‘the lord of the rings’, who would be the antagonist? Smeagol? Deagol? Or the Ring of power that corrupts them both, causing Smeagol to kill Deagol in his desire for it.
Something that you see a lot of in Fantasy lately is the idea that your MC is a young, unimportant farm boy, and the villain is the all-powerful evil sorcerer, or the corrupt King, or the dark overlord of hell itself.
But what if it was the other way around. What if your villain was a spiteful young farmhand who hates the benevolent King that everyone else loves? Why does he hate him? Maybe his family was killed by bandits and he feels that it’s the King’s fault, because he is in control of the Kingdom and he does nothing to stop the bandits that plague the land. So he sets out on a quest for vengeance, hoping to find the King and kill him for an imagined slight.
What if you wrote your book from the perspective of a villain? Would the story have a happy ending? What would that even mean? Would a happy ending be one where the villain wins, killing the hero and taking over the land?
One of the most important things to remember when writing a villain (or any other character for that matter) is character motivation. Why is the villain trying to take over the world, why does he want to kill the benevolent King that everyone else loves?
It’s often in the character’s motivations that we find a way to love them.
If your villain is trying to kill the King and take over the world, you have to ask why. Saying that it is simply because he is evil and greedy just won’t cut it these days, you have to give him a good reason.
Let’s say that thirty years ago, the Kingdom was embroiled in civil war. Two wizards were warring against the rightful King, trying to force him to accept magic in a world where it is feared and hated. The King eventually won, and had the two mages hung. Those two mages had a son, who they had kept hidden throughout the war. Maybe he snuck away from hiding and was present when they were hung. From there, a burning desire for revenge rises up in the young man, and all he wants is to kill the man that took away his parents.
He bides his time, growing stronger in the magical arts, keeping himself hidden. He plans to kill the King and take the Kingdom for himself. He will make the Kingdom perfect, he believes, by legalizing magic, thus freeing his friends who are being hunted to near extinction. He will cleanse the Kingdom, and bring about an age of peace and prosperity.
We can all understand those motivations. He wants revenge, and to make the world a better place, something I’m sure we could all empathize with. It is his methods that we must find abhorrent.
He wishes not only to capture and kill the king, but the entire royal family, ensuring that there can be nobody to challenge his rule. He will gather up every man, woman, and child that opposes them and he will kill them, to ensure peace.
Those are methods that we could never agree with.
Remember that your villain (if he is an actually person) must be someone who’s motivations we can sympathize with, but who’s methods we find abhorrent.