So this last week I have been re-writing one of the pivotal villains in my book. It's really difficult. You'd think that writing a villain is simple, but I've found that finding his motivation is troubling.
Writing villains isn't an exact science, especially considering that I haven't found anything in literature or the figures that write it that have anything useful to say about it. I'm tempted to say that writing a good villain is an art form, but then the process just collapses into esoteric philosophizing. So rather than giving you a long winded understanding of how to write a good villain, I will just share some things that I've learned about writing this particular one, and hopefully that will sate your thirst.
He's too damn evil!
The caption above is the gist of some feedback that I got from a friend who read my completed second revision draft. You see this problem more in the trouble with genres and how they can confine and restrict certain stories to only a narrow field of tropes and devices, but when someone is pegged as evil, they stay evil in the mind of the reader. Now think about that. A good villain not only has good motivation to stay interesting and fresh to the reader, but they should also be formidable. He/she can be formidable in one of two ways. They could be physically threatening (like Batman's Solomon Grundy) or they could be intellectually threatening (Riddler/Joker). I think what made Bane such a successful villain was because he was a perfect mixture of both. Now if a villain is outright evil, it leaves little for the imagination. The reader read's and says to themselves, "Oh, this guy is evil," and that's it. That's the end of that character arc.
Watching a good person gestate into a villain is okay, but even then, you know from the start that they will eventually be evil, and it takes away the magic of the reveal moment. So it's finding a right balance between what kind of formidable force the agent of evil presents and their level of involvement in the plot that makes it all work. A good villain has to have a reason to be evil. Remember that if anything.
A Nice Villain?
I've experimented with this and thus far I have had good results. I think what makes villains so great to read is their moments of unpredictability. If you think about it, villains and their driving motivation is to manipulate society or work to sabotage the order of how it works. So then it's extremely humorous to watch a villain doing something you would hardly expect of them. The act of being genial, to me, is one of those things.
My villain is one of those guys like Mitt Romney. On the outside he's very nice, but on the inside he's an evil SOB trying to rule the world. (Believe it or not I'm actually a moderate leaning slightly towards the libertarian party.) Anyways, It's hard to hate someone who will smile at the camera while shaking a hand with that firm, dignified commitment. If you sat down with them and let them have their say to you and spill their guts you would go, "Wow, he's not so bad."
Milton's Satan was done like this on purpose. In Paradise Lost, John Milton's chief purpose was to show that Man's true inclination was towards evil and sinfulness. He wanted to make Satan's cause so tragic and so winsome that the reader would begin to sympathize with him. Milton would then go, "Ha! You fell for it!" and the purpose of the book would be complete. If a villain is nice and perpetrating horrendous acts of evil simultaneously, the moral quandary that follows would be something else.
That's more or less what is on my mind at the moment. But I will leave you with one final piece of advice: you can either lead the story with your villain or your protagonist. What I mean by this is character actions will inevitably contextualize another character's purpose in the plot. So if a villain is bad and effects the life of the protagonist, that protagonist now lives in the shadow of the villain. In light of this, now the villain is the actual motivation for action in the entire work, and you were trying to write this cool story about this awesome protagonist the whole time. It can go the other way, which I think is more traditional, but Just keep that in mind when you write. As always, submit your questions below if you have any and I can clarify some of my points.
I'll see you guys on Wednesday!