Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vilifying the Villain: Characterizing Your Scoundrel.

 
Maybe it's just me, but there's something about a well-written villain that makes him/her as fantastic (and sometimes even more amazing) as our hero. Maybe it's the fact that we can identify with their flaws and struggles. Maybe we as chicks (speaking for my gender) have some need to nurture their wounded souls. Who knows? But you can't deny that we love bad guys! After all, a hero is only a hero when he has an adversary. Right?

So what makes for a good villain? A dark costume? Wicked laughter? A plan for world domination? Yeah, sometimes. Especially if you're The Joker or Magneto. But the villains I crave are the ones with scarring histories and twisted motivations. Why did they choose that path? What caused that switch in their brains to turn to the dark side? Who in their past damaged them to the point of losing that small part of their humanity? What makes them tick? All of these questions have to be addressed if you want to write an incredible villain.

Presently speaking, my very favorite bad guy is Klaus Mikaelson from The Vampire Diaries. If you aren't familiar with the show, here's a brief rundown. Klaus makes his insidious debut appearance in season two (2011), slaying part of the loveable cast, cursing those he didn't kill, and cementing his place on the TVD blacklist for all eternity ... or so we thought.

Enter present day Mystic Falls, Virginia. We see Klaus - now much more human-like, vulnerabilities and all - and not only do we feel for the life-sucking vampire, we're actually rooting for him! Sometimes I almost feel guilty for wanting him to have a successful life, like I've been lured over to the dark side myself. So what happened? How did we go from wanting him to suffer all the pain he'd put our heroes through to hoping they'd cull a few of our leading guys and make a permanent spot for him?


He became relatable. We learned the history of his family. Klaus' father (of sorts) chased him for centuries, trying to kill him and his siblings. His dad made a spectacle of him, taunted and pushed him. You can't help but sympathize with the guy. Then we meet Klaus' mother. Granted she loved him, it didn't stop her from pursuing the same path as her husband. Klaus is hated by everyone around him. He's never known loyalty or genuine love. His whole motivation when he entered the scene to begin with was the desire to have someone there who would never leave him, never betray him. Now we see him with the girl he's fallen in love with. The darkness inside him isn't gone by any means, but we can see that small glimmer of a chance that he might one day make a selfless choice by someone.

So what makes that villain someone we love to hate? Even though he's on the extreme side of the pendulum, he's not so very different than we are. He still walks the edge of the knife, chancing a fall to one side or another, but we have hope.

When you feel pain for the enemy, that's when you're witnessing a well-written villain.

Happy (villain) Writing.




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