Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Villain

What makes a good fictional villain? Well, among other things, I'd say he or she should go beyond the stereotype and feel as real as possible. So what are some of the motivations that a villain might have for doing what she does? There are the obvious ones: hate, jealousy, revenge, desperation, insanity. But how about love, belief, misconception, responsibility? Most villains--even the purely insane ones--usually do what they do because they believe that what they are doing is right. And we must never forget that one country's villain is another country's hero. Let's not take this into the current world situation, but instead put it into an epic fantasy context or ancient historical context.

A king musters an army and sets out to conquer the neighboring kingdom because his own people are starving and for some reason, he either can't or won't try for a peaceful solution to the problem. Or perhaps he has tried, but his requests or offers fell on deaf ears. Well, he has to do something to save his people, doesn't he? Of course. But then let's say he conquers the recalcitrant and stingy neighbor and still doesn't feel secure, so he goes on to the next nearest neighbor and conquers that kingdom as well. Then he's formed a kind of momentum and just can't seem to stop. He keeps going, and going, and...he's become the Normans on steroids. His original motive: understandable. His eventual result: unacceptable world domination effort.

And what of the young prince whose father was a Great Man? You know the type--the parent who shines so brightly that the child cannot hope to live up to that image, promting the child to do more, strive more, be more in a desperate search for identity. Then there's the child who grew up in an abusive home or in very desperate circumstances, whose motivation to secure his future stems from the desire not to have his personal history repeat itself. So he goes to the opposite extreme and pushes too hard, making mistakes that might not have happened if he weren't so desperate, or if he'd been able to exercise moderation at some point, or even if he'd been willing to listen to the guidance of others who'd already been through a similar life experience. It's hard to listen when we're young. I've often heard it said that it would be great to have the body of a twenty-year-old and the experience of a forty-year-old, and I heartily agree. But most people who become villians just don't grasp that concept, and before they know it, they're in deeper than they ever intended, and it's too late. The original motivation: understandable but overdone reaction to circumstances. The result: unacceptable societal faux pas.

Then there's the villain who's just insane, but that's pretty self-explanatory. It does beg the question of how he got that way--heredity, accident, bad brain wiring or something else.

This topic was sparked off by a discussion going on at one of the writers' boards. There's so much food for thought here that if I tried to cover all the facets that I can think of, I'd have a book.... Hmm. Save that one for another day. And I said I didn't write how-to's. The Wicked Queen's Handbook for Creating Villains.

Now I have to go write another desperate Fight to the Death--against one of the villains, of course. This gal is not the Big Bad Villain. This one's the Very Nasty Slaver Captain who finds herself In Over Her Head.

No comments: