It’s fun writing the bad guy. He’s the one who pushes the moral envelope, takes the plot into all sorts of dark places and gives our hero the opportunity to prove his mettle. However if I’ve learned anything studying the craft of writing, it’s that characters need to be well-developed, with believeable motives. And in the case of villains; they rarely see themselves as the bad guy.
So in order to avoid the moustache twirling cut-out cliché, I decided to work my antagonist’s backstory. In The Fall of the Kings, that was Marcus Verona.
Now I never saw Marcus as an evil schemer – more like one of those people who truly believe their own manifesto. But every time I tried to write his point of view, he felt very stiff, formal and not very likeable. This was a big problem for me, because this story requires Marcus to be quite charismatic – at least outwardly.
So I turned to his wife Celeste, and tried to see him through her eyes. The result was a short story recounting the summer they met and Marcus’s proposal of marriage. At that time he was a young soldier of limited means, on leave to attend to his dying father’s affairs. They met by chance, but the result was a gorgeous summer of secret meetings at a concealed waterhole on Celeste’s family estate.
It was the first time I really understood where Marcus had come from and what it was that drove him to succeed. The problem was, just like Celeste, I kind of fell in love with him too. Trust me I didn’t see it coming. But this caused me a huge dilemma: I know the path Marcus is on and what this will ultimately unleash for my mythical land of Gaelladorn, and I didn’t want him to be the bad guy.
One of the main themes in The Fall of the Kings is pride. How a refusal to look beyond our own experiences can have major consequences – especially when you’re in a position of leadership. There was no getting around it, in this story Marcus has to be the vehicle for Gaelladorn’s change of fortunes.
So where did that leave me? Because I’m soft, I just could not believe the man who romanced the lovely Celeste could possibly be responsible for what’s going to unfold. I also felt if I eased up on him I would lose some of the tension needed to pull the story together.
The result was a new character. A master antagonist (as if I didn’t already have enough characters in this book). You’ll meet him this week in the Wednesday WIPpet. I had to delve into his backstory too, and I’m pleased to say although I’m sorry for his past there is very little chance I’m going to fall for him. He’s driven by his own demons, but he’ll be pulling some strings in the background to manipulate Marcus too.
It made me feel a bit better about what’s going to happen to Marcus and Celeste – and it should result in a more powerful emotional payoff when it all plays out.
So this is just a cautionary tale about getting too close to your villains. Make sure you know what drives them to darker side of human nature. Give them endearing features as well as repulsive ones so they don’t feel cartoonish – but don’t get so attached you can’t go down the darker path when the story requires it.
A well drawn villain is a great foil for your hero, but be careful he doesn’t steal your heart, or your story on the way.
How about you? Do you love to hate your villains? Have you ever fallen for one? How did that work out for you / your story?