“You must pay the rent.”
“But I can’t pay the rent.”
“But you must pay the rent.”
“But I can’t pay the rent.”
“I will pay the rent.”
“Curses, foiled again.”
Ah, we do love a good melodrama, don’t we? Okay, everyone nod here and agree. At least look like you’re agreeing. We love to boo and hiss when the villain steps onto the stage, dressed in black, running his thumb and forefinger along his glistening black handlebar mustache. Melodrama bad guys are really, really bad.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, we fiction writers can’t be quite so cliched when we create our bad guys. So, here are some tips for creating bad guys that live and breathe in our fiction. Ideally, they’ll have the reader booing and hissing, at least in their heads.
1. Create real people with real feelings. Remember, bad guys don’t set out to be bad. They have completely logical reasons for what they’re doing. They consider themselves the hero of their own mythology. By extension, this means that in the villain’s world, the hero is the bad guy.
2. Create a backstory that allows your bad guy real reasons for being evil. It may be as extreme as watching his family murdered or being abused horribly by a teacher or uncle. But it also - and I think this might be a little less cliched - be as simple as being rejected by the head cheerleader or having your dog run over by a careless neighbor. Little things become bigger things as fuel is added to the smoldering coals. (Caution, mixed metaphor. Use may cause snickering.)
3. Give your bad guy a number of really good qualities. Remember, all it takes for honor to become evil is a slight twist of thought. Patriotism turns to terrorism. Almost any positive quality can be exaggerated into something that motivates your bad guy to the dark side.
4. Make sure your villain is up to the task. Don’t give a great hero a less than worthy opponent. If you do, you make your hero a wimp. CRINGE.
5. Tailor your bad guy to your good guy. This requires that you know what your hero values. If it’s honor, your bad guy will challenge his honor. You see? Of course, part of this is plotting as well. Often we must build our villain after we’ve built the hero and the plot.
6. Take a gander at the classic psychiatric problem children, the narcissist, the antisocial, the sociopath, the paranoid. Then mix and match some of the personality traits of these folks to make a unique bad guy. Be sure to come up with their motivations along the way.
7. Give your villain as much passion for what he believes as you give your hero. It takes passion to be bad. Strong beliefs. Mediocrity simply leads to ho-hum heroes and villains. Give ‘em something to roar about. And remember, since he is the hero in his own story, make him as committed to his goals as the hero is.
8. Remember, the worst villains look quite normal to the people around them. If they didn’t, they’d be easy to spot. If all the bad guys wore black and all the good guys wore white... well, you get the picture. In a good suspense novel (where the reader knows who the villain is), the bad guy may be standing right in front of the hero. The reader will be screaming at the hero to pay attention, to watch out, but, of course, the hero cannot hear. Not yet anyway. Of course, in a mystery, the reader will not know who the bad guy is until the climax.
9. Tami Cowden (co-author of Heroes and Heroines - Sixteen Master Archetypes) teaches that our villains are the “dark side” of the hero archetypes. Check out her website - www.tamicowden.com for a full explanation of the sixteen villain archetypes: tyrant, bastard, devil, traitor, outcast, evil genius, sadist and terrorist. She also has eight female villain archetypes: bitch, black widow, backstabber, lunatic, parasite, schemer, fanatic, matriarch. If you ever get a chance to take any of Tami’s classes, jump on the opportunity. She also explains, in her article Fallen Heroes that Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader are both WARRIORS who believe that they are serving the greater good.
Crafting your villains can be just as much fun and just as complicated as crafting your heroes. If it isn’t, you may end up with a cookie cutter bad guy. And that’s not a good bad guy.
Until next month, BiC-HoK - butt in chair, hands on keyboard. Have a great month.
About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.