Monday, August 1, 2016

Serenading the Wicked Heart: An Ode to Villains

Good villains require a lot of development so they don't become flat, cliche stereotypes. Villains, like ogres, should have layers. There are different types of villains, but my favorite are sympathetic villains. These characters might be just a decision or two away from being a hero, and we might be a decision or two away from being them. To me, that's fascinating.

One of my favorite sympathetic villains is Scorpius from the Sci-Fi channel series Farscape. He seeks the same goal as the hero John Crichton, but his methods for getting it are decidedly more evil and underhanded than John's. Scorpius has physical weaknesses that hinder him, but he uses his intellect to overcome them. This flaw has created a lot of Scorpi's determination and taught him internal strength, building a villain I would side with if it wasn't for the golden-hearted boy-next-door John Crichton.

quick Rumple sketch by Donelle Lacy
On the fringes of villainy, you'll find another character I absolutely love. The Trickster character. He's slippery, seductive, and you never know what side he's on. Rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon A Time is both
a villain and a trickster. His fingers are in everything and he's constantly three steps ahead of the other characters. He has a sympathetic backstory as well as circumstances in which he might be either truly evil or unusually kind.

After reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, I was charmed by the Marquis De Carabas. The long coat, the hat, the flashy smile, seemed more at home in a Louisiana gin joint than the Underground of London, but he fit perfectly. Gaiman played on all the traditional trickster qualities and produced a character who walks that fine line between reader trust and distrust. You're compelled to read on and find out more about him.

What we love most about villains and tricksters is that they do and say the things heroes never could. They cross lines, break hearts, and pull rugs out from under everyone else. They're shifty, sneaky, and clever in ways we wish we could be. They don't have to play fair, but they're seldom very happy for long. So they become tragic figures we secretly wish would come out on top. And in some stories, they do.

Writing villains requires inspiration, motivation, and a deep appreciation for the slipperier critters of the literary world. Without a well-developed villain, a hero would never know how bold, brave, or strong he could be, nor would he be motivated to find out. Villains, more than heroes, are fantastic motivators. If you don't believe me, consider the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, the Doctor and the Master, Batman and the Joker. The more compelling the villain is, the more the hero has to step up his game, and thus the hero becomes legendary.

When you're writing your villains, peel back the layers and get to the heart of why they are who they are. What made them that way? What/who do they love? And what steps would they take against someone who threatened that love?

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