Villains Are Heroes of Their Own Story

Writing a good villain can be hard. Cookie cutter bad guys with no real good reason to behave that way other than ‘they’re evil’ is ripping the reader off.

I once heard that ‘Villains are the heroes of their own story’ and I definitely believe that’s a good rule to live by as a writer. Think about antagonists, whether one in a popular story or one in a story you’ve written. Can you write out a character arc for them from their perspective? As they are inevitably beaten by their ‘villain’ it would need to be a tragedy, but you should be able to see it.

So let’s have a look at Lord Voldemort. His story starts like many others, in fact, there are parallel’s to Harry Potter’s origin story.

Tom Riddle is in an orphanage when Dumbledore comes to tell him that he’s actually a wizard and invites him to Hogwarts. Tom knew he was special because he could seemingly ‘do things.’

Death becomes the problem he needs to solve, and he decides Hogwarts is the place where he can solve this. But he is thwarted by someone he thought would be his ally, Dumbledore.

So he finds the solution on his own. Horcruxes. And as everything is going right for him, a new problem develops. A prophecy of a child who will be his downfall. So he decides no more fun and games, he must take action and cut off the threat by eliminating his enemy. But when he tries, the spell backfires and leaves him as a shell of a man.

Abandoned by his once ‘friends’, he desperately survives anyway he can until finally one of his ‘friends’ returns and helps him intact his plan to be restored.

But every step of the way Harry Potter is there to thwart him. Even after he finally manages to defeat his original enemy, Dumbledore. And ultimately in the end he unable to over come his young enemy and is killed.

 

Of course there can be an element of creepiness because they are really a villain after all. But we should be able to see how they are a hero in their own mind.

Sharon is a YA and NA author from sunny Queensland. Her Open Heart Series is out now with City Owl Press. 

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Psychology of the Villain

Villains. We love to hate them, and at times hate to find we love them. Last Tuesday’s Aussie Writers post looked at the possible motivations behind a villain’s actions, but what in their psyche allows them to make the choices that lead to these villainous deeds? To help me answer this question, I thought I better enlist an expert, so I teamed up with PsychWriter author, Tamar Sloan, to explore a villain’s psychology.

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A complex villain in most books isn’t your run of the mill sociopath with fifteen bodies in their basement. Yes, these individuals exist. We’ve seen the documentaries and read the books about them, but the broken characters we love to hate have greater depth than that. The villain of our masterpiece is usually a wounded human with the capacity for empathy, guilt and remorse. A human who makes choices that violate ethical, legal and moral boundaries.

What ultimately makes them a villain is that they reach a point where they’re okay with their choice, maybe even delight in it, and it’s the progression to this point that is valuable to tease out as a writer. Either in the planning or in the aftermath, your villain moves through a series of psychological steps that allows them to live with their choices and sleep the sleep of the guilt-free (or mostly guilt-free). Capture this process in your book and you’ve got a realistic, authentic villain your readers are going to be fascinated by, and possibly even understand on some primal, psychological level.

So what is this psychological, possibly subconscious, process your villain goes through before or after their villainous deeds?

The starting point is often a discrepancy between your villain’s beliefs and their behaviour. We each hold many beliefs and thoughts about the world and ourselves. Most of the time these beliefs, and the choices we make, coexist happily in the folds of our grey matter. Sometimes though, discrepancies arise. Like when we eat chocolate cake even though we know we should be dieting. Like saying family comes first, but then having an affair. Or like saying we value humanity, and then sacrificing thousands in the name of a cause.

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Image credit: Ryan McGuire http://www.gratisography.com

When our beliefs and behaviour clash we become uncomfortable. Nervous. Distressed. And if there’s one thing our brain doesn’t like, and has evolved to avoid, it’s discomfort. So it will do what it needs to do to achieve harmony and balance. Since the behaviour has usually already happened, or is committed to happening, the brain needs to do some cognitive gymnastics, and your villain will probably do one or more of the following:

  1. Change their belief: The ‘I don’t really need to be on a diet’ reasoning.

Saruman in the classic Lord of the Rings uses such reasoning. Originally a powerful Istari entrusted with guarding Middle Earth like Gandalf, Saruman’s belief—and allegiance—changes when he comes to believe that Sauron’s victory can’t be avoided. His love of power drives him to abandon his order and convinces him that he’s better off on the side of evil.

  1. Minimise their behaviour and how they perceive it: The ‘I hardly ate any chocolate cake at all’ reasoning.

From Middle Earth to Creekwood High and Martin Addison in Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. It’s not often the class clown is written as the villain, but when Martin stumbles on a personal email of Simon’s, he threatens to out him unless he helps Martin get close to Simon’s friend, Abby. When Simon asks if Martin is actually going to make him do this, Martin deftly minimises his behaviour:

‘Make you? Come on. It’s not like that … It’s not like anything … I was just thinking you would want to help me here.’

  1. Rationalise their behaviour: the ‘Chocolate cake is a good source of calcium’ reasoning.

The Hunger Games series offers us a slow-boil villain in President Alma Coin. She is all about freeing Panem and making it a better place, but her desire to take President Snow’s place as ruler at any cost, including killing Katniss’ sister, Prim, reveals her for the power hungry sociopath that she really is. Whether an act or her true belief, Alma Coin’s ‘for the greater good’ reasoning continues to the very end:

‘Today, the greatest friend to revolution will fire the shot to end all wars. May her arrow signify the end of tyranny and the beginning of a new era.’

  1. Reduce perceived choice: the ‘I didn’t have a choice. It would have been rude not to eat it …’ reasoning.

Twilight’s Aro is a villain with very clear cut, black and white principles. His primary objective as head of the Volturi coven is to keep the existence of their kind hidden. When it’s rumoured that Bella and Edward have created an immortal child, Aro argues he ‘has no choice’ but to destroy the infant who poses a threat of exposure for the vampires. Only when Aro sees a vision of his own death as a result of him trying to kill the child does he back down and let her live. Even a vampire sleeps easier at night when he’s convinced himself he had no choice.

Disclaimer: no chocolate cake was harmed in the writing of this article! Well, not a lot of it anyway, and our hands were tied. We had to eat it … for research purposes.

About the author:

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Tamar really struggled writing this bio because she hasn’t decided whether she’s primarily a psychologist who loves writing, or a writer with a lifelong fascination for psychology. Somehow she got lucky enough to do both. Tamar is the author of the PsychWriter blog – a fun, informative hub of information on character development, the science of story and how to engage readers.

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Tamar is also a passionate writer of young adult stories of finding love and life beyond your comfort zone. You can find out more about Tamar’s books at www.tamarsloan.com

 

 

 


Kat Colmer Author

Kat Colmer is a Young and New Adult author and high-school teacher librarian who writes coming-of-age stories with humour and heart. She lives with her husband and two children in Sydney, Australia. Her debut YA The Third Kiss is due out with ENTANGLED TEEN in August 2017. Learn more on her website, or come say hi on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

Tell Me Why? Villainous Motivations

As readers we are eternally curious about the characters who populate stories. But it’s not the surface stuff that intrigues us, is it? It’s the stuff underneath that has moulded them, formed their perspectives – the stuff that drives them. These deeply buried things are what makes a character intriguing.

Villains by definition often top that ‘intriguing character’ list.

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Villains do bad things and sure, we want to know ‘who?’ and ‘how?’ but that fades to insignificance beside the question ‘why?’. Why did he poison the cat? Why did she try to destroy Anya’s reputation? Why is he determined to terrify her to the point that she believes she’s insane? The answers to those questions are what will allow us readers to sleep well after closing the last page. We will be sated, satisfied, content.

So, is it ever enough for an author to brush that question away with a cavalier: ‘He/she is just a bad person’?

Short answer? No. Long answer? Never, nil, nada. Hardly ever. 🙂 

Why? (See? You wanted to know ‘why?’ 😉 ). Short answer: Readers want more. They’ll feel cheated. And, just quietly, be really, really ticked off with the author.

villain 3Long answer: True psychopaths are the scariest people ever. And yes, successful books have been written featuring them. But, at the risk of lighting a fuse under any psychopaths reading this, in the literary sense they’re kind of boring. Kill or torture for the sake of killing or torturing? Not going to hold my attention for long. If I’m not wondering ‘why’ then I’m out. You see, very few people are born bad, so the whole psychopath thing can often be a bit unrealistic and harder for the reader to relate. In fact studies back from the 1980s to the present all agree that a fair equation is that around 1% of western world people are true psychopaths – people who act without empathy or conscience.

Okay, so a more favourable equation would be nil%, but I’ll still take 1% over anything higher. Relatively speaking, it’s a low number. (Actually it’s terrifying if I say it in numbers – but it IS low really. Like 13 million psychopaths in 1.3 billion people. Whaaat!!! No, wait. Honestly, rest assured, despite that scary figure you’re unlikely to meet one walking down the street today. Or maybe not. Feeling lucky? Um, excuse me while I just nip out & lock my doors.)

So, what about all the other people – let’s call them villains –  who continue to star in our villain 2news reports or populate our gaols?  The non psychopaths. These people weren’t born bad. For the vast majority, things happened in their lives that affected their perspective and culminated in poorly made decisions to cause havoc and break laws (sociopaths). Or regular people who’ve got some kind of issue that burns them or has turned them.  These ‘things’ are called motivations. I.e,  a motive or reason for their decisions or behaviour.

Like everything else in life, villains come in all shapes and sizes. Moreover, they come in all manner of villainy from the sneaky troublemaker to the morally bankrupt multi murderer/serial killer. Some are charming (in their own evil way). Some slip into the shadowy background and exist in that disregarded no man’s land ‘under the radar’. And some will make our skin crawl. As authors and readers, we’ve met them all because fiction has an unfathomably higher percentage of villains of all kinds than real life. Thank goodness, yeah?

To recap that: In real life, ordinary people will do bad things. Just as in fiction, ordinary people will do bad things. The one thing these non psychopathic villains have in common is motivation; the reason that drives their actions.

Let’s look at some. Caveat: The list below is not comprehensive and there are heaps of lists on the net. However these are all motivations – and all open to your own twists and interpretation –  that I have either used or read, where used successfully, in YA novels.

  • Romance/jealousy.
  • Revenge for a perceived injustice
  • Repayment of past treatment.
  • Desperation
  • Peer acceptance
  • Peer domination
  • Need for Power (based on villains own suppressed power by others in his life)
  • Rivalry
  • Grief/Loss
  • Fear of Discovery
  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Greed

Don’t forget your villain can also have noble motivations – or motivations that began as noble. Most superhero villains were once good guys with noble motivations who somehow got off track. A villain with a noble/likeable side is most intriguing.

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Mix up your villains motivations to add more interest. Maybe your villain can’t help being a villain because he’s trapped?

Motivations are one of the major keystones to your story. They:

  • Reveal & distinguish character
  • Drive plot
  • Build drama
  • Give your story authenticity
  • Provide the impetus for character growth arc.

Motivations apply to every character, not just the villain. They drive the story. Dare I say they are the story. Every action and every reaction of your characters will be the result of their reasoning. And all reasoning is tempered by motivation.

Good Luck and Happy villaining!

kaz-profiles-022Multi award winning author Kaz Delaney has published 72 novels for kids, teens & adults over a 20 year period, many of them  published in several languages. Thirteen are YA novels and every one features a romance. Her latest is The Reluctant Jillaroo, Allen & Unwin, 2016 .  She is repped by JDM Management.

Review: Geekerella by Ashley Poston

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Anything can happen once upon a con…

When geek girl Elle Wittimer sees a cosplay contest sponsored by the producers of Starfield, she has to enter. First prize is an invitation to the ExcelsiCon Cosplay Ball and a meet-and-greet with the actor slated to play Federation Prince Carmindor in the reboot. Elle’s been scraping together tips from her gig at the Magic Pumpkin food truck behind her stepmother’s back, and winning this contest could be her ticket out once and for all—not to mention a fangirl’s dream come true.

Teen actor Darien Freeman is less than thrilled about this year’s ExcelsiCon. He used to live for conventions, but now they’re nothing but jaw-aching photo sessions and awkward meet-and-greets. Playing Federation Prince Carmindor is all he’s ever wanted, but the diehard Starfield fandom has already dismissed him as just another heartthrob. As ExcelsiCon draws near, closet nerd Darien feels more and more like a fake—until he meets a girl who shows him otherwise.

Let me first start out by saying, Disney’s Cinderella isn’t my favourite. I enjoyed it, but it was no Beauty and the Beast, or Aladdin.

That said, for some reason Cinderella retellings are my weak spot. A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff—yes please! Ever After with Drew Barrymore—LOVE! Cinder by Marissa Meyer—absolute favourite! Cinderella Live Action with Lily James—be still my beating heart!

So, yeah. I was kind of excited for Geekerella.

And I got through it in around 24 hours. With two little ones to look after that’s no easy thing.

Ashley Poston writing really draws you in. Told from alternating the POVs of Elle and Darien, the story unfolds to a deliciously addictive romance. Both characters are so full and imagined it was easy to work out who was who even without the chapter headings, and I fell for them both instantly.

This story uses the ‘anonymous text’ storyline where the downtrodden girl doesn’t realise she’s actually texting a heartthrob movie star. It may be an overused plot device but I still seriously love it. And when it’s as well-executed as in Geekerella, it helps to propel the story forward.

The chemistry was all there. The giddy kind that pulls a smile onto your face and makes you feel what the characters are feeling. And while Elle and Darien totally stole my heart, this book wouldn’t be what it is without the subplots and side characters.

Firstly, Sage. I heart her so much. Literally every scene with her in it was a joy to read—she was one hell of a fairy godmother. Jess, Darien’s co-star was fantastic, and the Frank the dog was described so perfectly I could have reached through the pages and scratched that chubby puppy’s head.

Then there was Starfield. I love books about fandoms because they throw me back to my teen years, scouring the Harry Potter forums and writing (bad) fanfiction. I felt all that and more through Elle’s passionate love for the cult series, and how it united her with her father, and later, with her fellow cosplayers at ExcelsiCon.

And, while a separate note to the writing, the quality of this paperback was off the charts. Thick paper, and a gorgeous cover. When you pick up a thin book with a bit of heft to it, you know the book is worth the money.

I would rec this book to anyone in an instant. You like a bit of cute romance? Geekerella. You like Cinderella? Geekerella. You like quirky characters? Geekerella. Books with fandoms? GEEKERELLA.

Do yourself a favour.

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Heather is rep’d by Carrie Howland of Empire Literary 

Four non-traditional antagonists

Source: Shutterstock

This month we’re talking about villains; we’ve already had posts about some excellent bad guys, but I thought I’d talk a little about four less tangible villains that I’d argue are even more threatening than your Voldemorts and Levanas by virtue of the fact that they often can’t be beaten, no matter what. They also aren’t always a solo act — they might combine forces with a more-traditional bad guy to deliver a one-two punch to our hero.

War

While in some books there might be a villain behind the war, someone that can be found and beaten, quite often they remain a mysterious background force rather than a real person. For example, in Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden, the characters never fight the unseen general presumably directing the invasion of Australia. Even the individual invading soldiers that they encounter aren’t dastardly criminals in their own right, they’re (mostly) guys doing a job. Alien invasions are another example where the war is bigger than one villainous person.

Disease

This list is starting to read a little bit like the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse! But disease (and its unkind sidekick, death) is a pretty common bad guy in YA fiction — you need look no further than cancer in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green or any number of other books where one of the characters struggles with illness. You could also argue that disease is the bad guy in certain types of zombie fiction — the types where zombification is contagious.

Time

You often see time as the bad guy in the sorts of books that have blurbs that include phrases such as “in a race against time”. In YA, time is also present in the looming end of high school for characters who don’t want to face that their life is about to change and their friends are going to move away. A great example is The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil.

The environment

I love survival fiction. Loooooove it. The sort of books that do environment as villain well include These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner — with the characters’ trek across the surface of an uninhabited planet — and the first two Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins. The latter take the environment-as-villain concept to a new level by having it actually respond to thwart the characters … albeit at the direction of some more-traditional bad guys. (Natural disasters are an obvious sub-category here, though they aren’t my usual genre so I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.)

These are my top four, but there are other candidates, such as famine (the last of the Horsemen!) and poverty. What are your favourite books where the things the characters struggle against most aren’t each other?


Cassandra Page is a speculative fiction author who has just revealed the cover for her fifth novel, False Awakening. You can see it here and read an excerpt. You know, if you want to.

Oops! I love the villain more!

This month we’re talking about villains. Something that I’ve always found interesting is that when you make a memorable striking villain, that has a decent enough goal to balance the hero and make them believable something strange can happen…

Readers fall for the villain!

Oops!

On this topic I straight away think of Harry Potter books and Draco in particular. Part of this is that he’s so well written and motivated and part of it is Tom Felton’s acting and portrayal that makes his Draco part of the character for me. There is a lot of fan-fiction written about this bad boy.

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Tom Felton as Draco In Harry potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
PHOTO CREDIT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draco_Malfoy

 

Then there’s the Darkling in the Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo. He is so bad he’s good and it’s not only Alina who struggles to resist him but the reader too (I mean is he that bad, really?). (mention to the Apparat here too).

Queen Levana from the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer even has her own story (Fairest) in the series because she’s so complex and interesting.

They’re appealing and well driven I think the villain can become popular when the hero/heroine is genuinely caring for them. It’s hard, then, not to follow suit as a reader. It makes for excellent tension and a great read if, maybe, we’d like the villain to win just a little bit.

Who’s your loveable villain?

🙂

Beck

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I always wanted to write. I’ve worked as a lab assistant, a pizza delivery driver and a high school teacher but I always pursued my first dream of creating stories. Now, I live with my family near Adelaide, halfway between the city and the sea, and am lucky to spend my days (and nights) writing young adult fiction.

5 tips for a memorable villain

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking about the bad guys of the story–the villains.

When it comes to writing villains, it can be easy to fall into some bad habits. Here are my top tips for creating a worthy opponent to your fabulous lead character:

  1. Give the villain strong motivation: Why is your bad character a bad character? Sure, you could fall into the all-too-easy “because he/she is just evil”, but how realistic is that? There are true psychopaths in life, but truly memorable villains tend to have reasons for their bad behaviour. Did they suffer during their childhood? Perhaps they don’t have a support network and have battled mental health? Or perhaps again, they’re not really a bad person, simply someone who wants something that puts them at direct odds with your protagonist? Whatever the reason, make it clear to help enhance your villain as a character and make him or her a real person/creature.
  2. Give him or her at least one redeeming quality: Just like your villain should have a reason for his or her bad-assery, he or she should also have at least one redeeming quality. How many people do you know without at least one positive personality trait? Whether you only give us a glimpse of this or you show the quality in its full glory, this can make your villain not just lifelike, but possibly the tiniest bit likeable, creating a very memorable villain indeed.

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    Is your villain a real person or just a shadow in the dark? Photo: Stock.Adobe.com

  3. Avoid the villain reveal: We’ve all seen it. It’s the climax of the story. The bad guy has the good guy trapped, tied up in rope, and he’s about to slit our hero’s throat! Calamity! The end is in sight!
    And what better thing to do when you have the hero completely in your clutches, ready to die a slow and painful death, than launch into a monologue, explaining your motivation to date and exactly why you did what you did? This is a cliched action performed by many villains, and outside of scenes in Inspector Gadget (where they also use the infamous “I’ll get you next time, Gadget” line) I don’t think it flies. It’s not realistic. And not only that, but there’s no motivation for the villain to tell the hero all that information, making the villain less life-like and therefore less scary in a time when you want him to appear all powerful and ferocious.
  4. Offer up a worthy opponent: Is the villain in your story all powerful, the strongest man in the universe–but a bit low in brainpower? Often, we can get carried away creating a heap of braun to combat our good guys and leaving our villains lacking in one major department–mental strength. This doesn’t just apply to villains involved in a physical showdown with our hero–whether your bad guy is a land developer with cold, hard cash to your hero’s tree hugger, or an opponent vying for a job at the same company, fighting your hero by dismantling his or her computer and leaving her stranded at the copy machine, you want to make sure your villain has the smarts to help create believable and truly deep drama.
    Yes, some villains are perhaps unintelligent, bumbling idiots. Yes, these sort of people do exist in real life. Do they make a worthy opponent for your fabulous lead character, however? And are they helping to create the maximum amount of tension between your hero and themselves by giving readers the notion that perhaps they could win? I don’t think so.
  5. Bring the villain into your home: Bringing your villain into the “safe” place of the hero can up the tension and raise the stakes. This can work in multiple ways: you can physically bring the villain into your hero’s home ground, or you can take someone close to your hero and turn them into the antagonist. This is particularly useful in contemporary reads. Think of things like the child putting the mother in the nursing home; the parents telling the child they can’t run riot in the rain late at night; a loved one not believing the hero when he or she tells about the fantastical thing he or she has seen. Having someone close to your hero display villainous traits or become a villain by offering an opposing viewpoint he or she feels passionately about can sometimes result in the most tension-filled novel of all.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel, as well as an editor of fiction. You can get in touch with her via her website or Facebook.