Writing a new villain

Is there anything more fun than writing in a new villain?

megamind

“All men must choose between two paths. Good is the path of honour, heroism, and nobility. Evil… well, it’s just cooler. “

The villain for my latest casebook is linked to a former Baron, disfigured by Holmes in ‘The Adventure of the Illustrious Client.’ The original story was set in 1902, so 30 years later, the Baron would be in his 70s, so I am going to make the villain his son, who could be in his 40s. Also of note, Austria abolished the nobility in 1919, so the son of a Baron might still be exceedingly rich, but he would no longer hold the title of Baron (read the Wikipedia article here). The way that Portia identifies him is going to be a pin he inherited from his father, and I think I am going to use a medal of honor from the first world war as the basis for that pin – this one.

One of my main complaints about villains is that while we as writers often put a lot of effort into giving our protagonists many facets, and layer upon layer of experience, background and range, we leave our antagonists with surface personalities. In my head I’m thinking of MegaMind, which was a cute movie (if you get a chance to watch it, it’s on Netflix!) and focused on the ‘villain’ almost to a fault. It was a story where the protagonist was the villain, so of course you got a multi-faceted villain, but then the antagonist (the hero in the story) was the one that was a shallow caricature. Can’t both protagonist AND antagonist have a background, a place from where they came, a reason they do what they do? All those things and more are what I want for my villains.

To that end it is important for me that this son of Baron Adelbert Gruner is not just bent on revenge for revenges’ sake. He must have other things driving him. Other reasons why after 30 years he is bent on an evil plan.

Let’s see how I do (back to the bat cave I go!) — wish me luck!

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10 thoughts on “Writing a new villain

  1. Nice point. Many of my favourite books have great depth in all their characters. I think Robin Hobb juggles the demands of many believable personalities well, for example. Good luck with your character building ^^ Megamind was an awesome movie~

  2. Thanks Vividhunter, and I will check out Robin Hobb on your advice, I don’t think I’ve read any of her books, but as a Sci Fi aficionado, I can see I probably should!

  3. Your villain sounds fascinating. You already sound well on your way to making him multifaceted already. I can definitely see that he could be sympathetic while still being evil. My guess would be that his father’s disfigurement when he was ten was the first in this long chain of hardships (father’s anger at disfigurement, WWI, the political and economic upheaval after). His desire for revenge could just be a subconscious desire to go back to a time before everything went wrong.

  4. To me, the best villains are the ones we’re able to sympathize with on some level; they might be detestable, but they do have at least one redeeming quality that tells us they’re not utterly evil (utterly evil can be fun, but it’s not especially interesting), and you can, to an extent, see where they’re coming from. You understand what their end is and why they want it even if their means might be appalling. They have a clear motivation and defined humanity; they’re not wholly bad and have their reasons be being the way they are. I have a lot of fun with my villains. They seem to often be what the hero could become if they’re careless.

  5. I think where writers mess up in this way it’s because all their energy has gone into one main character (Good Guy or Bad Guy), and while they might “know” the other side equally well, they simply don’t take the time to flesh out the character for the reader. They might even think both sides are equally clear.

    I like both villains and heroes to be well-rounded characters with very human traits. I don’t go for all-bad or all-good, more a mix of grey. In real life, most villains don’t think of themselves as villians, they make excuses and feel justified in doing whatever they do.

    What I really love doing in the early stages of planning a story, is working out two characters, then sticking them together and just seeing how they interact with each other. I love just letting them go – I get some amazing results, often completely unexpected. That can tell me more about the story and where it should head than just about anything else. I’ve had Bad Guys turn into Good Guys that way.

    I love surprises. 🙂

      • Hi Karmicangel – Thanks for answering. 😀 I love characters that take over and go their own way. At first I’d let it happen, not knowing where it would go, but always thinking, “Well, I can always rip it all out later.” Yet, without fail, those moments of watching to see where they go has paid off. Sometimes it’s pivotal – indeed my entire series currently underway formed because ONE character took a turning I did not expect.

        Cheers! 😀

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