How to Build a Better Villain by Christopher Newman
Ask any actor and they’ll tell you the heavy (i.e. villain) is the meatiest role. So we, as Pagans, know the cruelty of such characters from history, film, novels and real life. But how do you build a better, believable villain in your books? Well lucky you…I can help.
Oh it’s not ego, just a matter of observation and practice. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Cunning cads, disturbing demons and lovely fem fatales. Hey, it isn’t easy being evil, that’s the best part. Evil for evil’s sake is too bland and blasé so you have to be creative. Here’s a recipe I use occasionally.
1. Stubborn to a fault is the base of our stew. Nothing beats an antagonist who is both firm in his/her beliefs and knows the ends justify the means. No matter of logic or counter-argument can sway him/her. He/She’s not dumb, the villain has thought this through to it’s “logical” conclusion.
2. A sense of humor is always nice, let’s add that too.
3. Choose between darkly charismatic, foully unkempt, military (or quasi-military) strict, hideously ugly or several other options…grade it properly as to not become to cliché.
4. Avoid stereotypes! A ponytail wearing evil magician has been done to death…
5. Nervous mannerisms (always pushing up his/her glasses), eye twitches, etc make all characters unique, but in a villain it can announce to the reader that mayhem is going to follow.
6. Stir gently and bring to an even heat. A villain’s sanity/power/plans must not rush too fast in the pace unless the manuscript calls for the heroes to be unbalanced.
7. Scoop out the ridiculous (eyes opening at the end of the novel like some poorly written 1980s horror film).
8. Accomplices sparingly dripped in to the mix. Oh and by the way nothing adds to the spice of a villain as someone (or thing) that admires him/her greatly—for all the wrong reasons. Or one that hates him and wants his job….
9. Name him/her… everything, and I mean everything, the very success of the character can hang on a name. Flopsie the Ghoul Master just doesn’t cut it…
10. Ladle in a great back-story…why is he/she this way? Is it believable? Too much fantasy will make your scoundrel stew curdle.
11. A pinch of “who does he/she serve?” for as Bob Dylan sang, “Everybody serves somebody” (or at least I think that’s what he sang…)
12. Vampires don’t sparkle…oh wait that’s another topic.
13. Taste it… would you be afraid of him/her? If not add a dash more cruelty and liberally sprinkle in socially inappropriate beliefs.
14. Almost done now… take another taste. Afraid yet? No, add more of ingredient 13.
15. Twist in a twist (somebody’s gonna hurt somebody—before the night is through!) Eddie the Homicidal Manic has a soft spot for puppies… and removing the heads of nurses.
16. Pour this steaming cauldron over your manuscript and watch the steam rise. Ah! Smell that? Scoundrels are the spice of a manuscript’s life.
In closing you have to remember that the good guy/gal is bound by several rules and moral conditions. He/She will walk the righteous path, follow most laws and take the heroic stand. Villains are not so restrained. If you feel that “Whoa I don’t think that’s fair” happens when you pen an act by a villain…you’re on the right track. Consider this, poor Bob Ziegler gets fired at a film shoot on recommendation of an actress who he turns down for a date. Then he goes home to find his girlfriend in bed with his best friend. Ousted out of his apartment now he needs cash and most of all a camera to shoot his masterpiece, get famous and get the girl back. Enter the villain… smiling, knowing and ready for him. You need that old Super-8 recorder? Oh you’re broke? Hey I’ll give it to you if you film that hottie next door tomorrow morning. She likes to work out in skimpy attire and I’m too old to hold the camera steady. You’ll do it? Great!
Oh you say you have hideous painful tattoos all over your body from using it? I know just how to get rid of them, darn I’m so sorry this happened. How? Well my research shows that if you shoot the scenes of demonic pleasures depicted on your flesh I bet they’d disappear off. Good question, where ever are we going to find such willing actors and actress? Of course you’re right! The porn industry! My mama taught me how to brew up a special brew that’ll make ‘em forget what they’re doing. Inhuman? Not in the least they’ll be just fine. Immoral? Well I hate to break it to you friend but those tattoos are going be there until you die. They hurt? I bet they look painful! I know you think it’s kind of perverse but they’re only porn actors, who’ll miss ‘em?….for more on this see “Get Into the Spirit, Baby” from Dark Roast Press.