As I begin to edit a novel I’ve left alone for a few months, I’ve been thinking about my villainous characters a lot. See, there are more than I expected and they are all there at different points in the story for different reasons. There’s no way I could merge three into one.
Let’s introduce you to the cast.
There’s Captain Goldsworth, notorious pirate and all round bad man. I know it, he knows it, everyone knows it. He doesn’t try to hide it.
There’s Anabe, a member of royalty, whose time as a villain is all about misplaced anger and grief rather than about her being a bad person.
Then there’s Captain X. Seriously, I mark his name with an X because I don’t know what it is yet. This guy is a snake in the grass. He’s a functioning member of polite society, in the Navy and I didn’t see that he was a greedy, traitorous son of a B until it was too late.
Three villains, all very different from one another. It all boils down to the motivations behind their characters.
Goldsworth is ruled by his need to revenge on the protagonist. He’s a typical bully.
Anabes’ motives are mixed up in her emotions. She confuses justice and revenge for a large portion of the book, though she really comes into her own towards the end of the story.
Captain X is ruled by greed and power. Like many a worker bee, he doesn’t feel valued and it’s turned him bitter. When he sees a chance, he grabs it, regardless of the consequence on others.
With these three characters coming from vastly different backgrounds, having different pasts and different characters arcs, it’s fun to see how each villain stands up against each other. Goldsworth could never come back, but Anabe has positive character growth. Captain X? The potential is there, but I don’t think he wants to join polite society again. We’ll see after several rounds of editing.
So, how can you write great villains yourself?
1. Write without apology.
There’s no pressure for anyone to like these guys. Make them as horrible as you like. Everything can be changed when you edit if you really don’t like something, but give them time to blossom of their own accord first. This goes for all characters.
2. Use the 7 deadly sins.
Honestly, the 7 sins and virtues are my go to when searching for character motivations. I always give a character one of the 7 sins, whoever they are. Think outside the box with them, too. Greed doesn’t always mean they’ll eat everything in sight. Greed could mean they want lots of money or fame or power. The same goes for the other sins. Take a few minutes to really dig into them and see what unexpected angle you can take from them.
3. Choose the villain after you’ve written the story.
While rereading, I realized that all three characters played the bad guy. Since I went into the story without clearly defining everyone’s roles (or even knowing all my characters), I just went with the flow. Now, while editing, I can strengthen each character based on what I discovered about them through the inital drafting phase. Of course, this ties into letting them blossom of their own accord first.
My ultimate writing tip is just to be as creative as you want to with the first draft of anything. Push the plot and the characters to the limits of your imagination and let the story be born as naturally as possible. You can clear up the mess later.