How do you write a villain then?
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Villains are characters like any other with one major difference they are evil, right? Well yes and no. I always have a back story on my characters whether it makes it into the main flow of the piece or not. I know who they are or at least have a feeling of their specific background. Villains for me tend to be the most complicated of all my characters.
In For Their Sins, Anya Drake is the leader of the Mordere, and you meet her in the Prologue ready to kill Alexandria Diego my heroine. You assume it’s over a man because that’s all the facts I’ve given you in that first section. Much later you find out there is more to the feud. For what you’ll have to read and find out.
In the book though even Alexandria never fully comprehends the impacts of her actions or why Anya hated her so much. To me, I think it makes a reader dislike a villain that much more if they can’t fully understand their motivation.
Darth Vader is the perfect example. Everyone hated him before episodes I, II, III came out. He was an absentee father who tried to turn his kid into an A-hole just like him. Then the new movies came out, and you learn his backstory. Now people are empathetic with him because they understand his side of the story.
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Darth Vader was always a complex character. We knew there was more to him before we knew his backstory. We were curious we wanted to know. That intrigue helped fuel the movies’ success. He was the villain we loved to hate. Now we still hate him, but we feel a little sorry for him too. Does it ruin the storyline (not the movies itself I’m not trying to start a debate)? No, it simply changes our opinion a little. Decide ahead of time what your nasties backstory is then how you want readers to view them. That will determine how much backstory to reveal.
Dark and Twisty
Call me naïve or a hopeless romantic but I like to believe that people aren’t born evil. So what I like to think of as dark and twisty goes hand in hand with backstory. It’s the idea that some dark and twisty thing happened to your villain to make them the evil nasty person that they are. I’m sure that in real life there are plenty of medical professionals that will tell you otherwise, but this is writing and
Its much more interesting this way.
As I mentioned before Anya Drake is the leader of the Mordere in For Their Sins. If you haven’t read the book or the blurb, it means she was turned into a traditional vampire. She had a life and a family before she was changed. She’s also older than Alexandria and has a lot more history behind her.
When I started writing this novel, I knew who Anya was, and I knew her the major points of her backstory. I knew how Alexandria’s actions would impact her, but some of the other parts happened organically. It tends to happen when you are a pantster and not a plotter. It didn’t matter though because I had a firm grasp on all the dark and twisty things that happened to Anya.
A Few Pointers
Don’t overdo it Everyone understands the character is evil. You don’t have to blatantly spell it out for the reader with a long list of descriptors.
Don’t stereotype Not all evil characters have to be ugly, talk funny, cackle when they laugh, etc. Please be creative. Readers love to see variety, especially in a market that is flooded with books. Yours has to stand out.
Don’t over dramatize Please remember if you are a writing a gladiator, for instance, they don’t have to be 9 foot tall 300lbs of sheer muscle and dripping gore and blood from their last kill to be scary. There are other attributes you can emphasize. You want your writing to be convincing. Readers do need to immerse themselves in your world not get lost in unbelievable facts.
Have fun with it Writing should be something you enjoy. Try a few short stories before moving on to a bigger project. The only way to improve your writing is to do it.
Keep notes on characters for larger more involved stories.
Don't miss the first post in this series Creating an Urban Fantasy World
If you would like to read an interview with Anya Drake, you can find it here.
If you would like to read a free example of a detailed backstory Unlike the Rest is Nisha Patel’s story from For Their Sins
For Their Sins is a first person narrative following the life of a very unconventional 300 year old vampire. Alexandria Diego was Born in 1707 as a Venandi, a descendant of angels. Her people were charged by God to send the worst sinners to judgement. That included the soulless Mordere that are turned into vampires by more traditional means. Although Alexandria chose the path of the hunter she always longed for a quiet life. Destiny had other plans. One simple choice irrevocably changed Alexandria’s life and soon all of her people knew her name. When a war broke out between her people and the Mordere Alexandria suddenly became her people’s last hope of survival. Alexandria is lost and confused under the sudden weight. After agonizing over the problem she faces it head on. But when her true love is captured by the enemy nothing will stand in her way of getting him back. The only question is: is it too late?