So, throughout literature, movies, games and even further back in the ancient art of storytelling there has always been the villain, or the antagonist. The person, or group, or object that tries to oppose our protagonist from their goal. Starting from our impressionable young age we are told fairy tales or other stories that are more simplistic, with the villain being some sort of stereotype that is easily recognizable. We give them such traits as wearing all black, or with the evil laugh, the mushtash or any number of tell-tale signs to show our young minds that this is a person who we can’t trust and need to defeat in order to reach our desire goal at the end of the journey.
Though, as we grow older and expand our horizons, read more and break out from the traditional cut out villain, we find the antagonist in stories more complicated. They have a past, a history, they have a reason for being who they are. And just like our protagonist, the villain has their own goal they want to accomplish.
I don’t know what story it was or even what age I was when I was hit by this realization of the villain or bad guy in the novel i was reading was really a person. But I do remember, probably in my high school years, that I took a change with the novels I was reading and was introduced to characters that were not as black and white as they used to be. Heroes were now becoming darker, more angst and the bad guys didn’t seem as bad. Maybe they were just trying to make a living or had some sort of blackmail hanging over their heads. They weren’t necessarily ‘bad’ or ‘evil’, just lost on a different path of life.
I don’t want to list any examples as I’m pretty bad at that and I’m sure if I start to list a few others would chime in with novels or movies i haven’t read or seen or forgotten. But I think you all understand where I’m coming from, that there may be a time in your life when you pick up a new book and discover something new. That is, after all the excitement behind an unread book lol.
But coming back to motives. Now that I’ve begun to write more, to work on novels of my own, I am now faced with the challenge of writing an antagonist. Which is harder than I thought. And as I try to work out their personalities, back story and history I struggle with their motivations. Why do they want to hurt my hero/heroine? What is i they really want out of this life I’m giving them? Can they be changed? Or have they fallen so far down their own path that there is no going back?
So many questions, so many difficult choices to make. These questions lead me to some interesting thoughts, about how almost every crime comes down to one or multiple sets of the seven deadly sins: Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, Pride, and Sloth… okay not sure where Sloth comes in but the rest are basic motives that usually appear at the core of any villain. (That I can think of.)
I turn to media a lot. I’ve seen a lot of crime tv shows, from CSI series to the documentary styles such as American Justice and DATELINE. I don’t read many True Crime novels but the shows on tv are pretty interesting to watch, to see the workings of a serial killer, their motives and history as to why they did what they did. I’m sure many Mystery and crime novelist out there watch these sort of shows for inspiration too.
I was lucky with my Paranormal novel that with spirits and ghosts their motive is pretty straight forward. Many dark spirits feed off of fear, and thus they create an environment to feed off of. But as I start to diverge into other novel ideas, of some science-fiction and fan fiction, I am forced to come up with a more complicated antagonist/s to create obstacles for my characters to get around. It doesn’t help when I have a pretty pacifist personality to begin with, that trying to find a negative trait for a character, to make a fault or make them the person my main character has to defeat is hard!
I have done some experiments though to try to help expand in this are of my writing. (As i feel it is my weaker side). I’m part of a Star Wars RPG forum, and to try to help me think more like a ‘manic’ I’ve begun to create some Sith and Dark Jedi characters. It has been a great learning processes and I’ve struggled a lot to try to find my own voice for that ‘dark side’. It’s tricky, I have to really get into a certain mind frame, which has proven to be fun and unnerving at the same time. I did have good feedback on the board, with other members telling how much they like one character or another, or how they liked a particular post of mine. It’s encouraging, though I know I still have a long way to go and much to learn on how to write a compelling ‘bad guy’.
I really hope these new characters of mine help me tap into this unknown area of writing so that when it comes to my novels I’ll have a better idea of going about making my antagonists. In the meantime, it’s going to be a trial and error for me, and will have to take a lot of feedback from my friends and beta readers in order to flesh out the villains of my stories.
To the writers out there, have you had troubles creating antagonists in your novels? Or are they the easier ones to write? How do you work on motives? I’m curious to see how others react and work through this process.