A More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

Yes, that’s our objective of the day: to turn your novel, novella, novelette or short into a hive of scum and villainy.

Stories of any length thrive on villains. The more wretched, the better. For without him or her, there is no conflict in your story (excepting stories about the hero versus himself– tales full of inner angst, bitterness, self-doubt, flatus, etc.) Without conflict, your tale will be blah. Good antagonists make good stories, and a good antagonist is bad.

How to Villain:

(1) A villain should have qualities that are the opposite in most respects to the hero’s qualities. Yes, that includes hat color. I’ll just leave that here and move on.

(2) That said, a nuanced bad-guy is more effective, more interesting, more human. It’s easy to create a total “Ming The Merciless,” but after a certain point, the worse you make him, the more comic-book-like he becomes. A few positive qualities make him/her more real, and make his negative aspects seem all the more shocking.

Did you all catch that moment in Silence of the Lambs when Dr. Lecter stroked Clarisse’s hand? Or the many times in Justified when you worried about what was going to happen to Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)? Dracula, it turned out, was fond of animals–“de cheeldren uff de night!” And do you remember all of Lord Vader’s fine traits? Okay, maybe not him. Except he did have a cool outfit, so that could have been his positive aspect, sartorial splendor.

(3) What are the minimum evil traits a villain must have? An excess of self-will is number one. Viewers/readers must know that the villain is not going to be deterred by anything the hero says. Evil laugh (“muhahahaha!”)? Optional, unless you’re going all Ming on us. Prevarication? Good, but not necessary, except perhaps for revealing his character early on. Sadism? Definitely nasty, but not mandatory. Power hunger, good. Not necessary.

(4) The absolutely mandatory trait a villain must have, and it’s not necessarily evil, per se. He must want what the hero wants or, at least, wants the hero not to get it. The Hero must have a goal. The Villain must oppose his attaining it. And may try to help him join the choir invisible, or worse, just on the general principles of those who have none.

(5) Remember too: The villain is the hero of his own story. The worst, most evil-generating people of all are those who not only don’t believe they are villainous, they positively consider themselves heroes. Hitler at fifteen believed he was going to be the savior of Germany. (He also believed the end justifies the means, which guaranteed there would be no limit to his evil-doing.)

(6) It’s sometimes helpful to reveal a little of the antagonist’s backstory–show what made him the creepy dingbat he is, or show his first experiments with villainy.

(7) Just as every hero (except for some detectives) should have a flaw, it’s good for villains to have a flaw, too. Sometimes that flaw is part of how he became evil; sometimes it’s how he fails.

(8) Avoid stereotypical villains. Parts I and II of  The Universal Plot call for a different sort of villainy and a different thing for the villain to seek. Admittedly, there have been so many villains, it’s difficult to create a totally new one. Do it anyway. It will make all the difference in your story.

(9) There are several good books on how to create bad guys. I have Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches. Some people use enneagrams or astrological characteristics to put together an Antagonist. Methods like that are a little formulaic, but may serve as a fast starting point for designing your character, be he villain or hero.

(10) One last point: Studying psychology is not a bad idea for creating nuanced villains or ones that are at one end or the other of a spectrum of character. For starters, here’s a little new information on human brain construction.     https://bit.ly/2tnFyhv


This entry was posted in creativity, fiction, Lists, the human condition, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to A More Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

  1. Dana Macy says:

    Brilliant! But I tell tou that all
    the time. Don’t I? I do. And there you have it.

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