Wednesday 30 September 2015

(vol 2) Chapter 38: “Building a better villain”

2015 TOTAL WORD COUNT =           68623

Everyone loves a hero.

But you can’t have a good hero without a good villain. While most of us would love to live the life of the heroes we create, maybe putting a little bit of ourselves into them as we bring them to existence on the page, we sometimes tend to leave the villain as little more than a two dimensional foil; something evil to punch.

I’m as guilty as the next with this. Often my villains are cartoony, paper thin, and lacking any sensible motivation (there must be a good reason to take over the world, right?). Most of the time I’ve build on the foundation of a school bully, or picked apart the evil doers who dominated my childhoods Saturday mornings.

However, while working on the second draft for CHRIS AND MIKE vs THE RISING DEAD, I realised I was doing it again, and this time I set out to do something about it.

The story itself contains several villains; with smaller bit-part ones being set up for later adventures. But the main villain, a man named Jack Redit, is the main focus for our heroes’ attention.

The first draft version of Jack was thin. Wafer thin. He was brought into the story slowly within a prologue (unnamed), went on to attack an innocent man around the midway point (still unnamed) and then popped up at the finale, proto-formed and raring to go, despite not having once made contact with, or made mention of, Chris and Mike

I doesn’t take a genius to know that this was bad, bad writing. Of course that’s what first drafts are for. Jack didn’t exist as more than a fart in the wind during the first two weeks of CampNaNo. There was a place holder, a stickman, nothing more, and all it own was the word villain written across its forehead.

 The second draft was where flesh met bone. For starters the walking, talking gorilla got a name and a back story of his very own. But he was just a henchman. What about the stories proper antagonist? Jack was still a shadow of what I needed; no name, no past, no reason to take over the world. He was still just written in the body of the text as ‘Main Zombie’. And it was because I was making the mistake of focusing on my two heroes; two characters that I’d been building and shaping since their first appearance in flash fiction back in January. They’ve formed slowly over 30+ pieces of flash fiction, as well as the first draft of the novella. They’re the most formed characters in the story world. But it means diddly squat if they end up fighting a cardboard cut-out bad guy.

Of course making the decision to start work on the villain was one thing. I didn’t know how much it would reshape the story.

The main thing to remember with the villain is that they think they are in the right. Have you ever watched an argument and thought “they both have valid points” or “pros and cons on each side”. A great villain thinks that they are the good guy in their own little world, and it’s those dastardly ‘heroes’ who are preventing them from making the world a better place.

So that’s what you need to do; step out from behind the heroes view of the world for a second, and think about the real reason why the villain is trying to achieve their goal. It shouldn’t be because ‘they can’, or because they ‘just like blowing shit up’ (I know, I know; “some men just like to watch the world burn”). Maybe they were wronged in their past. Maybe they think that sacrificing ten percent of a population is worth it if it means protecting the rest (see Watchman, Utoipia). And the reason they send their henchmen to stop the hero(es) is because those super annoying do-gooders are the only threat to their carefully laid out plans.

I took Jack Redit to one side and wondered what his situation was. At first he was just happy to be back from the dead and eager to cause chaos. This is fine, if basic, but I wanted readers to sympathise with him a little.

Slowly but surely, in the last couple of weeks (when my neighbour isn’t forcing me to find quieter places to write due to his ongoing DIY project), I’ve been fleshing out (no pun intended) this undead villain and finding out what exactly makes him tick. And I think it’s going to make the story much better.

For starters, we see a little more of him. Not an equal share of the story compared to Chris and Mike, but way more than his original 2% page count. I’ve added in a few scenes at a steady pace through the story, enough to keep him in the readers mind, as well as to divide up the story with interludes, carefully controlling the pacing. I’ve intertwined his past with that of one of the heroes to, that way giving Chris more of a reason to take Jack ‘personally’ than if he was just the random, big-bad of the week. And finally, I’ve given Jack a subplot involving his past, something he needs to deal with outside of the main story, something besides carrying out his orders to just cause carnage.

Overall this will bring down the maniacal, mustache-twirling, punchy-punchy finale and give the closing scenes a little more thinky-thinky in its execution.

Hopefully Jack Redit is a worthy adversary for my two heroes. Hopefully the story benefits from his expansion.

How about you? Do you give you bad guys as much love and attention as the good guys? How do you go about making the reader care just as much for the villains outcome as for that of you heroes?
I’m off now to write that heart wrenching, gut punch of a scene.

See you in seven. 

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