We love to hate ’em. They stir the plot pot so well.
They scheme, they connive. They make plans and actions to trip up the beloved main characters.
But someone has to love the bad guy (or girl!)
“What?” I hear you say. “No way! Bad guys are evil!”
Maybe so, but there’s still one person who must love ’em.
That would be the writer…
If the writer hates her antagonist, then she’ll have a difficult time of writing the bad guy’s point of view in a sympathetic manner.
And aren’t the BEST bad guys the ones you inadvertently learn to like or sympathize with?
Anybody watch the televisions show, Gotham? You’d initially think it’s a Batman show, but it’s much more than that. Bruce Wayne is still a teenager and the majority of his future villains haven’t emerged from their cocoons.
The Penguin of the 1960’s television show, or the one from the Michael Keaton era movies aren’t particularly ones to root for. The first was full of campy comic book style humor and the second was…well, pretty gross!
But Gotham’s Penquin is a young man in his twenties. He’s been bullied and tormented, raised by a single mother who’s not quite there. He wants the power that others have lorded over him, and stops at nothing to get it. He might be a serious bad-guy-in-the-making but I’ve found moments where I truly sympathize with his character.
Which makes his evolution all the more intriguing to me. He’s not a cut and paste dastardly evil-doer, he’s human.
(And on a side note: the evolution of young Bruce Wayne from a potential super villian filled with hatred for his parents’ killer to the future Batman is fantastic!)
So, how to create a realistic antagonist, one that feels real?
If you don’t have anything specific in mind, you can always hit one of the random character generators found online:
And if you’ve a desire to tweak the basic information, here’s a great little tool to enhance character motivations.
You have ideas for your villain–appearance, manner, a quirk or two. You’ve figured out something about your antagonist’s background.
But s/he still feels like a cardboard cut-out, only a quarter inch deep. Or maybe your bad guy is so quintissentially bad that you may as well have plaguerized Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars.
It’s time to give your bad guys a little depth, a streak of good that they struggle with every day of their lives.
I stumbled across Eva Deverell’s website a while back. She offers all sorts of things for writers–free ebooks, information-packed articles on a number of topics and a series of worksheets.
You can find a list of them here. (And yes, I “borrowed” a number of these titles for blog titles this year.)
The one I want to point out is #6 – Love Your Antagonist.
Ms. Deverell brings up a number of awesome questions for you to ask about your story’s evil-doer, questions that will enhance the finished product in every way.
Does Ms. Bad Girl ™ feel she’s the villain in the book? What made her this way to begin with? Explore the events or people in her past to determine the particulars.
Does the Bad Girl ™ change in the end? Is there a moment of redemption before she meets her ultimate demise? Or is she bitter to the end? If you’ve developed her character well, your readers will want to know what happens to her.
Most importantly for you and your plotline–how is this antagonist going to change the course of the story? It’s one thing to focus on your main characters and have them win the day. Many good writers do just that.
But the BEST writers are the ones whose villains are strong enough, deep enough and flawed enough to change your initial idea for the story.
You’ve got your main characters, you’ve got your plot and location, you can’t wait to get started! Don’t forget to feed your antagonists too! They work just as hard as your protagonists in your story. Without them, your main characters will have nothing to fight against, and your readers will have nothing to increase the tension.
And go check out Eva Deverell’s website for a whole bunch of worksheets and articles that will help your writing!
A fan-geek and internet junkie, D Jordan Redhawk is an award winning writer of lesbian romance, writing in multiple genres. She highlights the outsider and reveals that we are not all that different from one another. Her books are published by Bella Books. You can reach Redhawk through her website, Facebook, or become a Patron!