"There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." - Walt Disney

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sympathy for the Villain

I’ve been editing a manuscript and it hasn’t felt right. For several days now I’ve struggled with why and then it hit me. DUH! I haven’t created any sympathy for my villain(s).

Well, don’t I feel silly L Rookie mistake.

The great Donald Maass, in his book THE BREAKOUT NOVELIST describes the mostly used “Mwoo-ha-ha Villains” as the cardboard variety and who never work. He suggests making the antagonist multi-dimensional, so that the reader is swayed in unexpected directions and even accepts the antagonist’s point of view. 

Writer’s Digest posted an article 4 TECHNIQUES FORCREATING BELIEVABLE VILLAINS which uses strategies taken from James Scott Bell’s CONFLICT & SUSPENSE. These strategies also suggest giving the antagonist a sympathy factor in order to lend a powerful current of emotion to the experience. 

The “Villains” section of SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS by Alexandra Sokoloff does a wonderful job describing the importance of villains. She suggests that villains make up half of an entire story’s theme. This makes perfect sense, since theme deals with subtle messages and all those hard choices between good and bad, or in a real tense novel, between bad and worse. 

So, I need to revisit the back story of my “villain”. The more I understand the reason for the antagonist’s bad behavior, that more I can “grow” the story and all its juicy conflicts. 

For my own tips on how to Love Your Villain.

Who are your favorite villains? Right now, two of my own favorites are Rumplestiltskin and the Evil Queen of Once Upon A Time on abc.


Sheena-kay Graham said...

We need to remember that even a callous villain needs to be understood by the reader. If they feel nothing for him or her, they won't want to follow the story.

Crystal Collier said...

Quite frankly, I love my villains--maybe even more than my protagonist. I think villains are the most complex characters in an entire story, because to be motivated to be a bad guy? I mean, that take major trauma, right?

Barbara In Caneyhead said...

Makes me think of those villains you love to hate, like JR Ewing on Dallas.

Rebecca Green Gasper said...

I agree- it is so important for readers to at least understand and even sympathize with the villain on some level. Great points! :)

Kristi said...

So true! The best villains are the ones we can relate to in some way, the ones that make us think and wonder just how things went wrong.

PS-I love Once Upon a Time. Rumpelstiltskin is one of my FAVORITE characters. :)

Kaye Draper said...

I adore sympathetic bad guys. They are the ones that tear us apart...and the ones that are most real. No one is born evil. Everyone is innocent and good at some point. And beyond that they have motivations that are every bit as important to them as the hero's motivations are to the hero.
I like your pic. That show is amazing at building sympathetic characters! Love Rumplestilskin!

Michael Offutt, "Johnny on the Spot" said...

I have sympathy for the evil queen but not so much Gold.

jan said...

Thanks for the reminder. I need to go back and crank up the empathy for my villain...the one exploiting the orphans in a child prostitution ring. Not easy.


I enjoyed your post though I don't go for villians,


Shelly Arkon said...

I love writing villians. Right now, I'm working on one that's in love with my MC. Total moron.

Hugs and chocolate,

Tony Laplume said...

That's something I definitely discovered when I was working on my last WIP. In another one, the villain was really only sympathetic when you finally found out how he'd become a vampire.

Anna said...

May 11th, 2013
Cool post!
Some of your sources (James Scott Bell) are on my 'how-to-write-book-list'.
Best wishes,

Mama J said...

I love it when you start to understand a villain, perhaps even start to like them and then - wham! - they make you hate them again.

Jess McGraw said...

Good choice on your example. Once Upon a Time does a good job of showing different aspects of both Rumpelstiltskin and the Queen, so you "almost" have sympathy for them.

Jess * Jessie * Jessy said...

Just like I loved J.R. Ewing, I LOVE Rumple! And the queen is beautiful. I don't usually like bad guys ... they have to be worthy of me. :) Good post.