Before you sit down to write a novel, it’s important to flush out that protagonist. The hero. The person who will win the day. You give them physical and emotional characteristics. You make them realistic and lifelike. You start to talk to them when no one else is around. Wait, is that last one just me? Anyway, you create them.
The problem with protagonists is the story would be boring if they were perfect. Once upon a time there was a perfect girl in a perfect land where everything was perfect and everyone was happy. One guy once thought about standing up to her, but she shut him down before he ever even finished the thought. The end.
See, boring. Our protagonists have to be flawed. They have to lose sometimes. They have to make stupid choices. Then they can spend the rest of the book fixing that, hopefully.
That’s where the “other guy” comes in. The bad guy. The nasty one. The evil one. He-who-shall-not-be-named, if you’re a genius like J.K. When you sit down to write a novel, those villains have to get mapped out as well. They get physical and emotional characteristics. They become realistic and lifelike. You breathe life into them too.
The thing with the antagonists is they’re dangerously close to perfect. Like scary close. If they didn’t have that one pesky flaw, they’d be amazing. Let’s talk Voldemort, since I already brought him up. He’s brilliant. He’s hands-down one of the best wizards of his time. If it wasn’t for the fact that he is willing to fight to control the wizards in the world, he’d have it in him to be an amazing source of good. Sometimes it’s scary to think about how much potential was wasted on that guy, but that may just be the teacher in me.
When you write a villain well, you fall in love with them too. How could you not? In my fantasy novel (available now if you’re an agent looking to help someone publish a kick-ass fantasy book) my villain is a seriously bad dude. No one is arguing that, least of all me. He believes the one-ruler system will save his Kingdom and he is willing to take out anyone who gets in his way on that. In his messed up head, this is justifiable homicide. But I know this guy inside out and backwards. I know that deep down, he really can love and that he has. I know that he had a crappy childhood. I know that he would lay his life down for a child of his Kingdom, so long as no one else saw him do it. I know he’s flawed, but I also know why. Can I forgive him? Maybe.
The thing about a good villain is that they are at least equally as interesting as the protagonist. I could honestly flip my story on its head and write it about my villain, instead of my heroine. I even considered it for a bit. I tried the outline before I decided to leave it like it is for suspense reasons. But I know both characters well enough to do that. I’m starting to think that’s where the money is (figuratively…trust me, there’s no literal money here) when writing.
Part of you must cry a little when you turn that page and learn that villain is not redeemable. When you learn how deep his flaws go, it hurts. You have to love the bad guys just a little.
Either that, or I’m completely bonkers (which is possible). What do you think?
Agree. You love to hate the villains. They drive the reason you are cheering for the protagonist!!