Friday, March 2, 2012

Villains—by Joan Swan

by Joan Swan, @joanswan

joan.swan.smallVillains are people too.

Memorable, compelling characters—that's what good fiction boils down to. And, yes, this includes your villains.

Your villain was an innocent child once. What changed? Why did it change? And most importantly, most did he change in reaction to those events?

The challenges we face throughout life and how we respond to them shape the internal landscapes of each of us--in both good and bad ways. Which means your villain has both good and bad qualities.

No one is bad all the time. Villains need positive traits, too. Traits that make him sympathetic to the reader. Traits that allow the reader to empathize, maybe even identify with the villain in a small way. Understand how he became what he had become, because if a reader can’t relate to your villain in any way, they will be disconnect and less invested in your story’s outcome.

For the sake of example, let's say your villain's father was oppressive.

That one element could create a variety of negative issues for your villain:

  • Maybe...the lack of all control made him crave it once he broke out on his own
  • Maybe...he developed a hatred of certain types of men
  • Maybe...he developed a hatred for women who allow men to dominate...or maybe he developed a preference for passive women...or maybe he prefers the dominatrix
  • Maybe...he developed a hatred for women who allow their children to be mentally abused
  • Maybe...he developed a fetish, something that gave him pleasure or allowed him to escape the domination
  • Maybe...he mirrored his father's negative trait with his peers—became a bully, a gang leader...or maybe the opposite. Maybe he feared control and became a follower (note: this isn't a strong villainous trait, but might be a tendency he has, which would create great inner conflict.)

To illustrate how the same situation could produce positive qualities depending on the person, let's take the examples above and turn them around.

The same villain, the same oppressive father. How did that affect your villain in a positive way?

  • Maybe...the lack of control made him empathetic to others who lack control
  • Maybe...he learned the right and wrong way to wield control
  • Maybe...he learned to empathize with women who'd been in a controlling relationship
  • Maybe...that fetish he developed was writing about controlling fathers who always die a horrible death. (We all know writing is a fetish. :-)).

Your villain's unique personality—why will your readers remember him?

Like all characters, your villain's distinctive qualities should evolve organically. In other words, his uniqueness should stem from the way he reacted and internalized lifetime events (as shown above.)

There are as many reactions to a particular hardship as there are people on earth. We all know or have heard of a family—same parents, same home, same school, equal treatment—where two of the kids turn out successful, compassionate, well-adjusted, and one who turns out a repeat failure, selfish, a social reject.

Every living person is unique—thoughts, behaviors, preferences, dispositions, wants, dreams.

Apply that concept to your villain and watch him puff from a cardboard cutout into a living, breathing bad guy.

How do you add dimension to your villains? What author do you feel does a stellar job of crafting villains?

Giveaway: · A print copy of FEVER, US/Canada shipping. · All comments are eligible for tour grand prize of either a COLOR NOOK or KINDLE FIRE. Enter:

Fever.w.quotesJoan Swan is a triple RWA® Golden Heart finalist and writes sexy romantic suspense with a paranormal twist. Her debut novel with Kensington Brava, FEVER, released February 28, 2012. Her second novel, BLAZE, follows in October,2012. In her day job, she works as a sonographer for one of the top ten medical facilities in the nation and lives on the California central coast in beautiful wine country with her husband and two daughters.