When You’re Bad at Writing Bad Guys

I recently realized that I’m not very good at villains–or, I’m not as good as I thought. This was a weird thing to realize but it kind of makes sense because I’ve gone through one over-dramatic, Disney-extravagant villain after another for SAAFire and I still don’t know what the point is. What do they want???

Side note: This is actually really exciting because I simultaneously realized I have so much more exploration of SAAFire to do and I was worried that it would start to get stale with the rewrite!

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On top of that, I am about as subtle as a tiger in a petting zoo with my foreshadowing and laying the foundation for my deliciously vicious villain to make his grand entrance. If I added a picture of a neon sign with my villain’s name in the second chapter, it wouldn’t be any more or less obvious than how I have it now.

So, I sat down to do a character interview of my villain. After working out some cool ideas with The Wandering Penguins, I now actually have two male characters I don’t know anything about–my antagonist and the guy everyone thinks is the antagonist until about halfway through the book when there is an EPIC reveal that *gasp* it’s actually this other dude!

Okay, writing that out makes it sound totally stupid and now I’m doubting the rough outline for that scene but you know what? It’s going to be awesome and that’s just how it’s going to be.

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But, did I mention that I’m bad at bad guys? Most of my character interview (I’m using K.M. Weiland’s format for Scrivener, for interested parties) has consisted of me staring at the screen and mentally screaming at my character.

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WHAT DO YOU WANT???

The weirdest part is that I’ve pretty much got a grasp of the basics. I already want a villain who is:

  • identifiable (not a faceless organization)
  • relatable (having redeeming qualities and an understandable motive for his actions)
  • is not a generic Batman villain in disguise
  • with his own personal motivations (that happen to be counter to the protagonists’)
  • just as capable/powerful as the protagonists (so they have a fair fight)
  • he can’t smirk (my secondary protagonist has a sort of monopoly on smirking in SAAFire)
  • may or may not be inspired by Lucifer from Supernatural
  • may or may not be inspired by Loki from Avengers
  • may or may not be a mash-up inspired by the cool-and-smooth Lucifer and wicked-and-unpredictable Loki
  • will be as colorful/stylized as a Disney villain

 

But I haven’t quite worked out what will go in each of those buckets (only that the end result will be spectacular). My villain is indoctrinated into a Nazi-like organization so I have to both forward that larger agenda and create his own personal motivations while making him someone you could imagine seeing on the street. Sounds easy, right?

Too bad I can’t interrogate him into telling me his whole backstory and future plans like he interrogates my protagonist.

Wait…that could be a really interesting writing exercise…

While I work out how to make my villain up to my standards, what ingredients do you add to your antagonists to spice them up and make readers believe in them? Leave a comment below!

 

 

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

2 thoughts

  1. For me, the innards of every villain (okay, antagonist) is how they are the good guys from their point of view.

    Understanding how their point of view and objectives differ from the protagonists’ point of view and objectives (and, if I’ve done my job right, the reader’s brainwashed point of view and preferred objectives) is how I understand what makes them, you know, the villain.

    The Pulau League, and, by extension, the admiral leading the hunt for my main characters, wants to maintain the status quo – independent floating islands, each a sovereign territory, each with their own culture and the freedom to make their own choices for good or bad. The admiral sees the protagonists as having the potential to cause the same sort of sky-spanning disaster that made so many islands fall during the end of the [mage empire], and is unwilling to risk her beloved meta-civilization and millions of lives on something nobody quite understands. Best case scenario, things aren’t going to be the way they were, and that’s bad. Worse case scenario, just about everyone dies.

    And this is on top of the already existing threat to the status quo by the growing patched-together continent that is gobbling up islands – her world is already under threat.

    I can get behind that. That’s entirely reasonable. And it’s not a conflict of “Well, maybe if they talked it out, they would find a solution,” it’s a conflict of “Well, if they talked it out, the Admiral would probably say, ‘I understand, you might be right, but I’m sorry, I just can’t take that risk’ and continue the hunt.” In fact, one of the friends betrays the others because it’s the right thing to do.

    I cannot abide by villains who are in things for the sake of doing evil. Some people might be doing what is right… for themselves only, but they are still the good guys, doing what they do for the good of themselves. Other people (particularly non-humans) might have Orange and Blue morality *but they are following that morality*.

    (I also generally avoid indoctrination because it makes the villain seem weaker than if they believe things for completely solid reasons.)

    But yeah, if I can’t articulate a convincing argument for why the villain’s actions are morally right to the villain, then I go back to the drawing board.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is what I’m going for–the antagonist has believable motivations counter to the protagonist and that is why they are the antagonist.

      Your setup sounds very intriguing, as if you could simply change the POV and have a whole new antagonist!

      The indoctrination set for my guy is the best way to make a True Believer, which he is. He warps existing ideology to his own twisted ideas but the main framework for his philosophy comes from a larger organization that may or may not always align with his plans. The hard part is the details…

      Like

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