Yesterday, Hubby and I took the Kiddo to the bookstore. I have a Christmas gift card that's burning a hole in my pocket, so I got some books I've been wanting (yay!) and let the Kiddo browse for something for him. This is what he picked out.
Villains-- especially GOOD (as in bad)--villains can make or break a story. Think about the Batman movie The Dark Knight. What does everybody remember about that show? The Joker. The bad guy. The twisted, evil, fascinating bad guy that makes the hero go through that harrowing emotional journey we love so much.
I'm the first to admit I haven't given my villains appropriate attention in my previous books, which is half the reason I'm writing this post (I swear I learn more writing blog posts than I do reading books about writing). Before we jump in, I want to clarify something. There are different types of ANTAGONISTS. At its most basic, an antagonist is simply someone whose goals oppose the protagonist's. They don't necessarily have to be evil. I'm going to be talking specifically about VILLAINS, which (for me, anyway) fall into a category within antagonists. Villains are the ultimate bad guys-- their goals aren't just opposed to your protagonist, their goals are BAD, and the protag has to stop them.
So how do you create your ultimate villain, like Darth Vader or Voldemort or Hannibal Lector?
1. Make them as three-dimensional as any other character
Yup. Three dimensions, just like any other character. Your villain is possibly THE most important character next to your protagonist. You don't want to flesh out everybody but the bad guy. You need to know the mask they present to the world (dimension 1), the history behind why they do what they do (backstory- dimension 2), and who they really are behind their mask-- what they will do when the pressure is on (dimension 3).
Example: Darth Vader shows the world a mask literally. He looks and acts powerful and cruel. But underneath he hides a broken body and spirit. He's a slave to the Emperor and the dark side of the Force, still lusting for power he's no longer capable of wielding, which makes him bitter and even more cruel. When it comes down to it, though, we discover that his good side is still fighting to get out-- and he gives up his own life to destroy the Emperor and save his son.
2. Give them SPECIFIC goals and reasons behind them
Their goal can't just be "stop the protagonist from doing his thing." They need a concrete goal that OPPOSES the protag's goal, of course, but usually the villain was being his bad self before the protag even comes on the scene. And the villain can't just be bad because he is (even if he really is that bad). What are the reasons behind the villain's goals? How are those reasons tied to the villain's character?
Example: In Star Wars episode 4, Vader is practically desperate to find the stolen plans for the Death Star, as well as to find the rebel's hidden base. He needs the plans so the rebels can't use them against him, and he needs to find the base to destroy the rebels. Simple reasons, right? But a little deeper, if we look back to the character we saw in Revenge of the Sith, we see that he thinks destroying the rebels is a good thing. They're bringing disorder and even violence to the orderly Empire that he sacrificed basically his entire body trying to help set up. Sure, his actions are evil, but he believes he's in pursuit of a noble goal.
3. Give them something memorable-- try for contradictions
And here we have the really fun part. Make your villain stand out above the crowd. You can do this in a myriad of ways, including cheap tricks. Darth Vader had his evil-looking armor/life-support suit. The Joker has his scars and makeup. Voldemort has his snakey face. These end up not being cheap, however, because they all tie in to the character and their backstory. Even if you don't use visual uniqueness, try to give them a unique character instead of using the stock bad guy. An easy and memorable way to do that is through contradictions. Maybe your evil, puppy-killing villain has a weakness for unicorns, and draws them on the wall as his trademark whenever he kills those puppies.
Whatever it is, make your villain MEMORABLE.
So, my friends, who are your favorite villains in fiction? Why do you love to hate them? Who is your favorite villain you've ever written? How do you make them come alive?