Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday's Focus: Sleeping With The Enemy

Are you as an author sleeping with the enemy? This "enemy" is the villain in your story. Are you sleeping with him? If not, you probably don't know him too well, and if you don't know him at least as well as you know yourself, your story will be weak and unconpelling.

Why? Think about it for a minute. Would you accept a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lector? How about going on a cruise with Captain Ahab? Or maybe you'd like to spend the week-end with Voldemort?

What is so right (or wrong) about these villains? Well, you aren't going to forget any one of them any time soon, are you? No, I didn't think so.

Why not? Because two of these villains is a three-dimensional character. Each of these two has a strong history behind them, a history that enhances the character and makes them three-dimensional. Evil for evil's sake is dull and boring, and doesn't provide your reader with any believability. The villain whose only motivation is to do evil over and over again doesn't become real, because no one in real life is totally "good" or totally "evil." With one exception.

That exception is Lord Voldemort, because he is the exact opposite of what every good writer knows a villain should be. Voldemort IS the perfect example of someone who is totally evil. He has not one good or even slightly sympathic bone in his body. His one mission in life is to kill Harry Potter, which he began trying to do when Harry was a mere infant. I think the reason no one will ever forget Voldemort is simply because he is the epitomy of evil, some one who exists for the sole purpose of killing one specific person. He was born evil, he killed his mother, supposedly in childbirth, but as one author said, "Who is to say he wasn't planning on killing her during the nine months of his gestation?" However, he  will be remembered forever in literature simply because he puts the lie to everything I will say, most writers will say, about the villain having to be a three-dimentional character to be memorable.

What is your villain's motivation to do the bad things he does? Why does he put just about every obstacle imaginable in the way of your MC? The very best, the most memorable villain has a reason, a logic behind the things they do. To us, to the hero, this logic may be so faulty as to be unreal, but to the bad guy, it makes perfect sense.

No one is born evil. Er, well, with that one exception. But putting Voldemort aside, villains are born with the same qualities of life that heroes are: intelligent, honest, hard-working, sensitive, empathetic, capable of love and affection. So what happens to your villain to disconnect him from these qualities, and turn him into some kind of despicable person?

Do you remember Wuthering Heights? Remember Heathcliff? What makes him so memorable? His history. His background. He was abused as a child, was never allowed an education, was both despised and feared as much because he was racially different as because of his actions. Yet, even when he becomes a cruel man bent on revenge, the reader still feels drawn to him, still wants, in some small part of their heart, for him to find love. Why is that? Because he had a history. Because we can look into his heart and his mind, and see the reasons he became the villain he was. It was pure logic to him, to get back at those who had made his life a living hell, and we could understand that, no matter that we also hated him for what he did.

You don't want a sympathetic villain. You don't want him to be out-going and likeable. But you do want him to be credible and believable, and to be that kind of villain, he has to have a history. That history should portray him as an intelligent and complex person, who does what he does from a logic that, no matter how twisted it is, is perfectly sound to him, and understandable to us. How he bcomes devious, evil, and bent on destroying everything the hero loves, and quite possibly even the hero, comes from his history, his background, the things he endured growing up, the beliefs he had that were so different from those of the people around him.

Make your villain as compelling a character as your main character. Maybe even more so, but in a less-than-pleasant way. You need to know what he thinks, how he thinks, and why he thinks the way he does, and why this leads him to commit the treacherous acts that he does.

And to do that, you must sleep with the enemy.

Until next time,
That's a wrap.


  1. Good point, Mikki! In a short story I'm working on, my crit partner's main issue was that my bad guy was too evil, not real enough. I rewrote it so that instead of being pure evil, he was clutching onto sanity with his fingertips (due to a backstory that I won't go into here). Anyways, changing his history and his motivation made him much more three-dimensional.

    1. Sometimes when we really get into our story, we're so concentrated on the MC, we totally forget about the villain or antagonist. They are two different kinds of characters, but both should still be three-dimensional. I think that is one of the hardest parts about make the "anti-hero", whether villain or antagonist, someone we understand, even if we hate him. Or, as one author put it, "The villain we love to hate!"

      Thanks for your post, Heather!

  2. Good example with Heathcliff--I wasn't a fan of Wuthering Heights, but I did find him a compelling character. I have to say though, I don't think Voldemort was born evil, but that his overambition lead him to turn pure evil. Maybe Sauron would fall under the "evil at birth" category.
    Thanks for the post, it was interesting!

    1. When I was reading Wurthering Heights in school, I couldn't make up my mind about Heathcliff...I wanted to hate him, but I couldn't! I guess that's what made him a memorable character. Can't really decide about Voldemort, but I did have to laugh at the author who said he was planning his mother's death during his 9 months of gestation.

      Thanks for stopping by, Mary-Jean!

  3. This was a great blog, Mikki and was very interesting. It is so important to have a villain with a history and to be credible and believable.

    I liked your example of Voldemort. I loved the Harry Potter series and he was pure evil.

    Reading your blog, I thought about my villains. Actually all three had histories and were believable. I'll have to see what readers think.

    Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I've only read your one book that's out, am anxious to read the next one, but you're right, your bad guy is a believable person. I'm sure the next two will be, also! Glad you stopped by.

  4. What a great post! If I ever write a novel, I'll remember your great advice. But since all I've written so far are picture books, I can't really make an evil villain. But it sure sounds fun!

    I loved Heathcliff in Withering Heights. He was dark, dangerous, vulnerable, and so in love. I felt sorry for him and never really thought of him as a villain. Just someone who was misunderstood and abused by many. So I guess the writer really knew what they were doing because he was a character that stands out in everyone's mind that read the book or saw the movie.

  5. Thanks, Allyn. Villains are the most difficult character to write, and most writers, me included, get halfway through their story before they stop and realize their villain is weak, and throroughly dispicable...but for no good reason. Then we hve to go back and give him a "life" that somehow explains who and what he is. And we can't do it in "backstory!" Not fun at all. LOL