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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Bourbon

Even Your Villains Need A Reason

It's Monday and today I'm talking about writing the perfect VILLAIN!

Snidely Whiplash, an archetypical sinister cartoon villain

I love me some villains, well the good ones, the well-written, well thought out villains who are bad for a reason. Now, that reason probably doesn't make much sense to you and me because we are not villains but to them, it is their WHY!

In Lisa Cron's craft book on writing, WIRED FOR STORY, she talks about your character's misbelief and how this shapes everything they do in the story. This is NOT the same as the flaw they have.

For example, a flaw may be that they gossip, or talk too much, or are self-centered, or argue about every little thing, or they bite their nails, or they are defensive---etc--these are character flaws but they aren't WHO the character is, just what they do.

WHO the character is goes way back to when something happened that created a misbelief for them. That misbelief is holding them back in some way.

Maybe it's that no one will ever love them, they aren't worthy, they will never be enough so they act based on that.

Go get the book, Lisa explains it amazingly.

NOW, back to our bad guy!! WHY is he that way?

Is he a half-blood who was bullied in primary school? Was he born in a jail and therefore only sees the world in black & white? WHY is he this way?

Give your villains a reason for their actions and I promise you they will be stronger. When you can show the reader, or viewer a villain who has a reason for behaving badly it gives the story more depth and more power for whatever it is that you are trying to say.

Look at Darth Vader and Palpatine-one has a reason and one doesn't, therefore one is a strong character and one is just a bad guy just to be there.

Your readers don't necessarily need to know the reasons but you as the writer should. If you can weave it into the story, even better.

Here's a great article from Rolling Stone on the best TV villains-it's from 2019 but still great. I want you to read it for some great examples.

I personally LOVE Tom Riddle and Anakin Skywalker as my two favorite villains for books and film. Then I would have to say that I love Javert. I don't even see him as a villain but more of someone to really feel sorry for as he just can't see past his own misbelief. This is true in all versions of Les Misérables that I have read or seen.

There are heaps of great villains for you to choose from.

In comedies, the villains are usually the bad ex-boyfriend, or jealous girl, the popular crowd are always the villains for a couple of reasons. One, many writers weren't popular in high school so there is a little bit of revenge writing going on, and two, a lot of them act like jerks. Why do they do this?

It goes back to their misbelief.

A great jerk character is Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars.

He was a class A dick when we meet him. Why is he like this? Well, we find out because of the way he is raised creating a "less than" feeling about himself.

Chuck Bass is also sort of a villain at the beginning of Gossip Girl but much like Logan, he weasels his way into our hearts.

Your assignment is to study characters, especially villains, and if your story includes them give them a reason for their actions. You can thank me later!

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