We’ve all met them. Those villains who are so bad they’re good—scary, make-you-wet-your-bed-while-reading, desperate-to-turn-the-page-but-not-wanting-to, good.
These are the Saurons…the Jokers…the President Snows of our acquaintance. With each name, something pops into your head. Something terrible, blood thirsty, cruel…but worth remembering. A cautionary tale, or at least a reason to fight for the light.
You know who I’m talking about. But how to write a character like that?
How to write the darkness, without letting it extinguish the light?
Now, at first, I was going to google a bunch of posts, and come up with a checklist for a villain. (PRETTY CHEESY, right?!)
But then I was like…C’mon Kara. You can do better than that. There are a hundred different places where people can get that info. Go deeper. Use what you’ve learned.
So, here we go. I’m going to share the one thing that has become sort of my crux of what makes a good villain. Not to say this is the only thing…or the end all. This just is one observation I’ve made that is both chilling, and works.
Okay…you ready for it? Put down your cuppa coffee, ignore that facebook notification, and here we go…
THE #1 WAY TO CREATE A VILLAIN THAT SCARES YOUR HERO TO THEIR CORE:
Make That Villain A Dark Reflection Of Them.
Got it? Okay. Let’s break this down.
From my observations, the villain that truly connects and shakes the Hero to their core is the one that is like a shadow reflection of them.
For example, I’ll use the three villains I mentioned above:
He was rather unassuming, created to be a master creator and serve Eru (basically, the LOTR version of God). Then, bam, guy gets a ring (condensed version, people…) and the darkness that had always lurked within him corrupted this once-good creature. That same darkness that nearly corrupts Frodo himself. That same desire to be more–to have power. That same selfishness that Frodo fights against. Frodo was one step (and one lost finger 😉 ) away from becoming Sauron.
This guy is crazy, true, but he is also brilliant. Using any means necessary, Joker eliminates those standing in the way of what he sees as his better plan. He brings the forgotten and the misunderstood (and the PHYSCO) together. He pulls on a tragic past to change Gotham from the slime pot it is. Very similar to what the Dark Knight himself tries to do. Both cross lines that blur right and wrong. Both find some sense of accomplishment in the maiming and stopping those who are, from their perspectives, harming Gotham. Joker tends to just want everyone to run free, Batman wants all the villains rounded up, but both are willing to go to sometimes horrible lengths to do that. In fact, there is even a fan theory that Joker is actually the hero, while batman is the villain, but because the stories are told from Batman’s perspective, he is cast in the better light. (Which, personally, is crazy. But–you get the point. Batman is one step away from becoming Joker.
Tough as nails, and willing to do anything to keep the districts in order, don’t let the luscious white beard fool you–this guy is no Santa Clause. Yet, time and time again, he defends himself. Saying that everything he does is for the good of Panem. Including having a bunch of teens kill each other, for a bit of extra food. What’s a few deaths in the grand scheme of things? Much as Katniss is obviously fighting for true freedom, and to save the lives of those sent into the games, she also doesn’t blink at taking a life. Or fifty. She is also hardened, and unwavering in her resolve to fix their faulty society. If her empathy were to become overturned by that callousness, and her vision blurred…she’d be one step away from becoming Snow.
(Sorry, not sorry #randomLokigif #forthewin)
Beginning to understand now? The thing that makes these villains so good is that we see a bit of ourselves in them, just as the hero will eventually have to–and that cuts us to the core. Its frightening. It ups the stakes. No longer are you just fighting for what you believe is right–now you’re fighting for your very soul. But, it also hardens a resolve. It comes down to one choice, for the hero, and in a way for the reader: who will you be?
Which side–which master–will you choose? Darkness or light? Power or humility? Fear or courage?
Because those choices are what define a hero, and allow them to do the impossible for those they care about.
Those choices also become the core of a plot, that turning point that will add that much more depth to your novel.
In my novel, WINGS, about the daughter of a fallen angel, my main character Noel must face this reality…
“It was then that I realized I was becoming the very thing I had sworn to escape,
that I’d been running from these past few months–the very thing that had nearly killed my best friend.
I was becoming my own nightmare. Darkness incarnate. My father.”
What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Did you find this helpful at all? Leave a comment below!