Monday, August 15, 2016

Good Villains Make Hard Writing

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
Flickr Credit: Roddy Keetch
Let’s start by saying that none of us are perfect writers. It is a truth universally acknowledged, right after wealthy single dudes seeking wives and putting dark text on light backgrounds.

As imperfect writers, we all have our struggles. A few of mine: I’ve never been good about keeping a writing schedule, I’m a slow writer, and I put off finding CPs longer than I should. They’re places to grow and someday I will, but they aren’t what nags at me most.

Believe it or not, the place where I need to grow most is writing villains.

This may sound odd since I devote every third Friday (including this upcoming one, in fact) to discussing villains. I also place a copious amount of admiration upon their morally gray behaviors and traits. Considering how much time I spend thinking about them, you’d probably think, “Oh, she must have no problem writing those.”

Nope. Not really.

I tend to dehumanize my villains. Take the WIP I recently retired—the villain was a government authority who intended to kill magical creatures, which was justified because she would save human lives. A noble goal, no? Maybe, except her plans made so much sense that I only characterized her as a cruel person, so no one would like what she did. It didn’t work.

(For the record, I believe I could have fixed that villain. I stopped because I had more problems with the protagonists. It was enough to stop.)

My current (but inactive) WIP has more confusing villains. I mean, they are indeed dehumanized, partially because they aren’t human and partially because they are not good people. But in both antagonistic journeys, I’m trying to be surprising, and it is not working so well. They should be developed before they are surprising.

I don’t exactly know why this is hard for me. Perhaps it’s because I admire many villains because of the good I can see in them. I also try to recognize that from someone else’s perspective, my protagonists are villains with evil in them, too. Still, I automatically try to write “evil” villains—and therefore, my villains are hard to admire and I end up not paying attention to them.

I want to get better, though. I plan on editing, and writing about villains does help. Part of writing developed characters is seeing both the good in the bad. I just need to keep looking for that in my own characters.

Where would you like to grow in your writing?

10 comments :

  1. Ain't that the truth. I have a hard time characterizing villains, but my biggest struggle is probably plotting. I have the hardest time stringing scenes into some sort of coherent story. I also tend to focus on supporting characters at the expense of the main character, and dialogue is tricky...

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    1. Plotting is tricky. I think it's also hard because it can take quite a while to figure out exactly what you want. Basically, everything about writing is hard. Blah!

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  2. In these situations, I find writing a good backstory for the antagonist really helps. If you get a good backstory process for your heroes, using it on your antagonists will help even the playing field. In the first draft of my current WIP, my MC's personal antagonist did not even have a name, so when I created her backstory I decided to give a lot into finding her a great name. Making sure you like or even love something about your antagonist will help with their portrayal, originality, and authenticity when you create their backstory and write them in general.

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    1. That's good advice! I will definitely be taking a deeper look into my antagonists' backstory before I make my next draft. Hopefully, that will make it a little better for my next reread! Thanks for you thoughtful comment!

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  3. I agree that villains are difficult. I have the similar problems with a villain in one project I'm working on. He's not complex or compelling at all, and I think that at least part of the problem is that I'm worried that I'll humanize him too much and then he won't be a good villain. Reflecting on it, I think at least part of the problem is that I haven't sat down and thought about his motivations enough myself. I know what he wants, but I think I need to better flesh out how he came to want what he wants.

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    1. That's the trick, isn't it? If you humanize a character too much then... well, it isn't so bad for the readers, but it's certainly bad for me as a writer! How can I let characters I love kill characters I love? I hope that you get a better idea of what his motivations look like. :)

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  4. Villains ARE hard. I'm trying to write one for my Alice in Wonderland retelling and it's just a load of nonsense right now. And for contemporary, the "villains" are different because they ARE human so you have to show both sides. Writing. *sighs*

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    1. Ooh, I'm sorry. :/ *sighs* Hopefully you will find the character and then be the greatest at writing him? Showing both sides is definitely among the hardest bits of this kind of work. *shakes head and sighs*

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  5. I would have never imagined that you would want to grow in regards to writing villains, especially with all the analysing you do on your blog. Good for you for recognising your weakness, though! (And villains are super hard, by the way, because you're trying to write this incredibly complex character (who's often more complex than your MC) and you don't usually get inside his/her head in the actual narrative. So never beat yourself up over it!)

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    1. Yeah, it seems like it would be weird but I'm actually fascinated because they are so hard for me. And yeah, getting inside their head would be most helpful for me. *sighs* Thanks for your thoughts, Victoria!

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