Last night, I went to the movies with my son. He’s doing football conditioning and it is god awful. So, I took him to see his choice of movie as sorta a pick-me-up. We walked into the mall and looked at the framed posters on the wall for a while, contemplating our choices. A nice older lady on the nearby bench suggested we see Hobbs and Shaw or maybe one of the comedies. But my son was set on watching Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. He likes scary stuff. He likes villains….
When I started writing, I found developing the main villain to be the hardest part of the story. There has to be a deep complexity to your main villain, a reason for all of his or her actions and that reason has to be so great and so compelling to force that person to commit heinous acts. I don’t know if other people have trouble with crafting a main antagonist……but Hashkeh Nabbah’s story in Searching for Fire, his description and his behaviors was the very last thing I wrote. I struggled to describe him at times. I skipped the beginning chapter about Hashkeh Nabbah, the angry warrior, and his lair. I wrote the whole book and then went back to complete that chapter. I wonder how long it must have taken Stephen King or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to develop their bad guys like Pennywise and Moriarty, truly amazing terrifying one-of-a-kind creations. I think the main reason that it is difficult to get inside the head of a main villain is that the majority of us operate on the level of a need for affiliation as opposed to power according to David McClelland’s Theory of Motivation. We just don’t think and operate the way a villain might.
The supporting villains are much easier to write. Perhaps this is because they are seemingly more one dimensional. You don’t have to describe the catalyst that caused their behavior. They just are what they are. You see this in watching the movie Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. In the individual stories, the supporting villains are just frightening and evil and act without motivation revealed. There’s the scarecrow Harold, the buried woman who takes Auggy, and the others. But, it is Sarah Bellows, the main antagonist who creates the stories who’s motivations must be explained and who’s inner turmoil and conflict must be resolved in the end by the protagonist.
I like these type of villains…..the ones with backgrounds that reveal deep trauma and rejection that leads to rage which leads to malevolence. You get to see them as they were before reality dealt them some cruel and vicious blows and they hardened like salt. One of my favorite recent depictions of a villain is Maleficent. The scene in the movie when she loses her wings is a really powerful moment. It explains the terrible betrayal of love and the need for revenge and cruelty.
When you see the whole story and not just the animated Disney version, which is great in its own right but lacks depth and complexity, you see someone deeply wounded inside covered by a hard outer shell.
I liked this method of storytelling so I included one supporting villain in the book Searching for Fire who has a wounded past. The description of his past is short…..just a chapter and may seem out of place with the rest of the story but the beginning is based on a true event that did happen under the Spanish colonization of the region of Texas in the 1600s. These things really did happen and so often our textbooks tend to gloss over the details.
So, anyways, here’s a toast to the villains. Here’s to the villains, the complex ones and the simple ones. I truly love them, love reading their stories. Without them, the heroes would be lifeless and without purpose or drive. The villains are often times the true epicenter of the story and unfortunately never get the credit they truly deserve nor the adoring fans…..hence the madness and rage I suppose. They sweep in on the stage and steal the show over and over again with awesome displays of wickedness. Without Lord Voldemort, what would Harry Potter be? Without Darth Vader, would we even want to watch Luke Skywalker? What would Star Wars even be without Vader?
Do you have a favorite villain? Comment below what your favorite story villain is and why. I’d love to hear your responses.