Amalie Howard, author of many books including Alpha Goddess, The Almost Girl, and The Fallen Prince is the queen at writing nasty, nefarious types. Today, she joins us to tell us the ins and outs of writing a really great bad guy.
As a kid, when everyone else wanted to be Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, or Princess Leia, I was the kid who wanted to be Darth Vader.
*whispers to you* . . . come to the dark side . . .
I don’t consider myself to be a villain, but I do appreciate both sides of the battle as well as the lure of being bad. Because, let’s face it, villains can be awesome. And not only are they awesome, but they’re crucial to most stories. The villain is the antagonist that makes the role and journey of your protagonist so much more meaningful. Put in the simplest terms, they’re meant to keep your hero from reaching his (or her) goals. They’re the obstacles to the hero’s journey. The stone in his shoe. The sand in his swimsuit. The Joker to his Batman. The Voldemort to his Harry Potter. You get the picture.
That said, there are many different kinds of villains: villains who become twisted through some life-altering event or quirk of nature, villains who are simply born bad, villains who like being evil, villains who want to preserve the greater good, villains who have no choice but to be villains, and villains who are heroes in disguise.
But my favorite type of villain is hands-down the complex, misunderstood kind. The kind where the definition of villainous is mired in shades of gray, where moral nihilism starts to beg the question. What’s right? What’s wrong? Who defines goodness and/or badness? Is this villain truly a villain?
Megamind is a great example of this. He’s not inherently evil, but was pegged from the start into that role because of circumstance. In the end, he turns out to be the true hero of the story. Another example of a character often portrayed in a villainous light is Kali in East Indian mythology. She has a bad reputation for being a berserker killer goddess, but a lot of her fury comes from her deep-rooted protective instinct, much like a ferocious mother bear defending her cubs. She is considered to be the great mother goddess, capable of terrible destruction and yet also representative of powerful and nurturing female power. I like that combination of strength and ferocity (which is why I am writing about her in my next YA book, Dark Goddess, out in Spring 2017 from Sky Pony Press).
For me, writing a good villain (not an oxymoron by the way) is essential to my stories. And by “good,” I mean well-rounded, multi-dimensional, and layered. A good villain has to be as fleshed out as much as the hero. As the creator, you have to understand what drives him, what his motives are, what he wants so that these are transparent to your readers. His goals (nefarious as they may be) are just as important as the hero’s. At the end of the day, he is the surrounding pressure—the mold that helps shape your hero into the person he is meant to be. A good villain fosters urgency, creates impetus, causes challenges, incites tension. In short, this friction is what give your story its kinetic energy . . . the force that keeps it moving from page to page. One of the biggest things I talk about in my creative writing workshops is your character’s GMC or Goals, Motivation, and Conflict. Each character must have a goal they are working towards, motivation that drives them to achieve this goal, and the conflict that keeps them from getting there. The cool thing about villain/hero conflict is that their goals will usually be at opposing ends of the spectrum, which can make for very interesting tension.
In my own writing, I like to keep my readers guessing as to who the true villain is. Often, I’ll have a character who checks all of the boxes, but will turn out to be an ally. Conversely, I also enjoy writing characters who may seem wonderful on the outside but may have secret agendas. My favorite villains are the ones you don’t see coming.
Some tips on writing a good villain:
- Make sure your villain is complex, layered, and multidimensional. (He is a reflection of the hero so put as much work into him as you would your hero.)
- Give him real goals and motivation that make sense in the framework of your story.
- Create a believable backstory that brings value to his narrative.
- Avoid typical villain clichés (long speeches, disfigured, vain, jealous, angry at the world, abusive, sinister, over-dramatic, dressed in black, etc.)
- Surprise your reader.
Some well-done villains in literature:
- Alex DeLarge—A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- Dolores Umbridge—Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (In many ways, I see her as even more evil than Voldemort.)
- Coulter—His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
- Ramsay Bolton—A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin (I really, really, REALLY hated him.)
- Count Dracula—Dracula by Bram Stoker
- The White Witch—Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis
Amalie Howard is the award-winning IndieNext author of Alpha Goddess, The Riven Chronicles, the Aquarathi series, and the Cruentus Curse series. Her debut novel, Bloodspell, was an Amazon bestseller and a Seventeen Summer Read.
Her next novel with Sky Pony, Dark Goddess, is a sequel to Alpha Goddess, and will release in Spring 2017.
She currently resides with her husband and three children in Colorado.
Visit her online at www.amaliehoward.com or follow her on Twitter @amaliehoward
In Serjana Caelum’s world, gods exist. So do goddesses. Sera knows this because she is one of them. A secret long concealed by her parents, Sera is Lakshmi reborn, the human avatar of an immortal Indian goddess rumored to control all the planes of existence. Marked by the sigils of both heaven and hell, Sera’s avatar is meant to bring balance to the mortal world, but all she creates is chaos. A chaos that Azrath, the Asura Lord of Death, hopes to use to unleash hell on earth.
Torn between reconciling her past and present, Sera must figure out how to stop Azrath before the Mortal Realm is destroyed. But trust doesn’t come easy in a world fissured by lies and betrayal. Her best friend Kyle is hiding his own dark secrets, and her mysterious new neighbor, Devendra, seems to know a lot more than he’s telling. Struggling between her opposing halves and her attraction to the boys tied to each of them, Sera must become the goddess she was meant to be, or risk failing, which means sacrificing the world she was born to protect.
Seventeen-year-old Riven comes from a world parallel to Earth, a world that has been ravaged by a devastating android war. As a Legion General, she is the right hand of Prince Cale, the young Prince of Neospes. In her world, she’s had everything: rank, responsibility, and respect. But when Prince Cale sends her away to rescue his long-lost brother, Caden, who has been spirited to modern day Earth, Riven finds herself in uncharted territory.
Armed with the mindset of a soldier and racing against time to bring Caden home, Riven must learn how to blend in as a girl in a realm that is the opposite of all she’s ever known. Will she be able to find the strength to defy her very nature? Or will she become the monstrous soldier she was designed to be?
Riven has fought for a hard-won peace in her world, and has come to shaky terms with who and what she is—a human with cyborg DNA. Now that the rightful ruler of Neospes has been reinstated, Riven is on the hunt for her father in the Otherworld to bring him to justice for his crimes against her people.
But when she receives an unwelcome visit from two former allies, she knows that trouble is brewing once again in Neospes. The army has been decimated and there are precious few left to fight this mysterious new threat.
To muster a first line of defense, her people need help from the one person Riven loathes most—her father. But what he wants in return is her complete surrender.
And now Riven must choose: save Neospes or save herself.