These are the thoughts and reflections from storytellers who wish to share their views, insights, and secrets. Perhpas you will find golden nuggets of truth amidst these posts.
Janea Butt is one of 14 amazing authors who were recently published in "The Rogue's Gallery", a villains fantasy anthology.
Follow the link below to hear her read a small excerpt of her great story.
Every story has a protagonist; a great hero or heroine who triumphs over adversity to inspire us, teach us life lessons, or simply entertain us. This fundamental building block of literature is crucial, but often overshadows it's equally significant counterpart; The antagonist. The antagonist as most know is the villain of the story, the obstacle, or enemy that our beloved hero must defeat to win. What most do not know, however, is that the antagonist is arguably more important than the protagonists. Without a truly great villain to defeat, a hero's accomplishments are sullied by the fact that they were easily achieved goals, not worthy of being recalled by storytellers and authors.
In this article, I hope to explain my process for building a great antagonist so that aspiring writers can better create their own villains. I also want readers to better understand and appreciate the villains portrayed in their favorite stories.
Creating a great villain begins with depth. It is just as important to develop the character of the villain as it is to develop the character of the hero. Key information such as the back story of the antagonist, where he/she comes from and where does he/she hope to go is an important first step for character development. While beginning a story in media res can be exciting, introducing a character in that manner with little information as to who they are and the role they play in our tale can be tricky. Sometimes, it can be confusing unless their part is intentionally ambiguous.
Motivation is another important facet and should be well developed too. Which villain is more interesting; the one who simply does what he/she wants on a whim or the one driven by a specific malicious goal? I find the former of those to be unimaginative and unsatisfying to read.
Personality development is also significant. Understanding the inner mechanisms of a villain's mind helps the reader to better understand the villain themselves. This understanding may sometimes cause us to sympathize with them.
Creating an antagonist that a reader can relate to in some form removes the cookie cutter, black-and-white concept of the hero and villain. It also creates a greyer area of morality. This grey area best reflects real life scenarios and provides better reading material. It has the potential to invoke critical thinking and philosophical dilemmas that engage the reader's mind. In using that concept, but moving in the other direction, you can create a villain that readers absolutely loathe. Whichever one you choose does not matter as long as the characters you have built invoke some sort of emotion in your readers. Literature that triggers our emotions of happiness, anger, or fear have the greatest impact on us and are the best to read.
Once your antagonist has been imagined with the aforementioned methods, the next step I like to take is to develop their character in opposition of the protagonist. A villain should be superior in a field of characteristic. Let me explain: If the hero is weak, for example, then the villain should be strong so that the hero must train or acquire power to be successful. This concept is one of the most widely used in literature because this is what provides the challenge for the protagonist to conquer. If a villain arises in a story and is strong, but the hero is stronger, then the villain will be defeated quickly and without struggle, resulting in a short and uninspiring ending.
Of course this writing tool of character development is not limited to physical strength. Perhaps the villain is a genius and the hero must best them through intellect or a specific skill is required to complete a task. Regardless of the way your hero and villain fights, it is best to have the villain superior to the hero in at least one characteristic.
The final steps to creating your villain lie in the small details such as physical attributes or unique actions. Whether your villain looks scary through scars, fearsome appendages, or acts strangely or quirky, these little details make the antagonist stick out and become more memorable. Using the above points, I hope that aspiring writers have a good starting place to begin creating their own well-developed villains.
Eric Ralfs is a person who occasionally writes when he isn’t distracted. He has a Master’s in Public Administration but is currently a custodian because life is funny like that. Eric lives in squalor along with his girlfriend, Rachel, and three cats that assure he averages roughly four hours of sleep a night.
1) What is your motivation for being a story teller?
My motivation to write is to share my life and, in a way, immortalize myself. One of the things that I find the most fascinating about writing is how it allows us to communicate with people with people we will never meet, even if they lived hundreds of years ago. I guess you could say that I want to be part of the larger canon of the human experience.
2) If you could summarize your anthology into 1 sentence, what would it be?
A highly devoted wife willingly becomes a test subject for her husband’s experiment to conquer humanity only for her to discover a new calling amongst personal chaos.
3) What is your favorite genre to write? Why is that?
My favorite genre to write is comedy because when I’m enjoying myself, it just flows naturally. I can spend hours writing page after page if I’m making myself laugh while doing it.
4) What are the three most important characteristics of protagonists?
I think the most important characteristics of a protagonist are: the ability to learn, the ability to make mistakes (and even be unapologetic about them sometimes), and the ability to persevere. Learning is how we grow as people and protagonists should be the same way. A good protagonist should learn and develop as they go through their respective story and come out on the other side as a different person from when they started. As the saying goes, to err is to be human and characters should mess up from time to time too. These provide learning opportunities and also possible moments of character development as the character decides what to take away from their mistakes. Sometimes we have regrets while other times we deny we did something wrong even if we’re told otherwise. No character should be perfect. Finally, everyone has something that drives them. A lot of times, peoples’ goals aren’t easy but they are still motivated to make it through the hard times because of them. The kinds of hardships that we are willing to and push ourselves to overcome define us as people and protagonists should be the same way.
5) What advice would you give to other aspiring authors?
Basically the same advice that Stephen King gives, keep writing. Write even when you don’t feel like it or even like what you’re writing. Writing is a lot like cooking in how, if you want to get good at it, you’re going to have to eat your mistakes from time to time. It’s an ongoing process and keeping at it helps you get better.
6) What makes a good villain?
A good villain has a lot of the same markings of a good protagonist. They’re relatable. They can change and evolve when presented with new situations. They can surprise us with their actions. They have an end goal that motivates them to get up in the morning and go through their daily routine. A villain is only the villain because of the views of the protagonists and the audience because villains rarely see themselves as the bad guy. When a supervisor is unfair or strict, they believe they’re doing the right thing. When a politician does something that is cruel, they tend to believe that the action follows their moral compass or that the end justifies the means of reaching it. Even being a sociopath is a reflection of a person’s personal values and this is what drives them to do what they do.