Writing: Villians are more fun

I love writing villains.

Heroes are easy. Determination. A clear sense of right and wrong. Justice. Hope. Just a dash of threat and weakness to bring them back to be “related to” by the reader. Something special to make the reader imagine they are special too. Easy. It’s like cooking a good dessert. Just enough savory that you aren’t gagging on the sugar overload.

Villains are more fun. They are a challenge. I’ve always liked to avoid the “I’m just a bad person out to rule the world” villain. WHY do they need to rule the world? WHAT motivates them? My favorite villains have always been the ones that have something “good” motivating them. It’s why I’ve enjoyed the show Once Upon a Time so much. Every villain has a past haunting them. Driving them. The worse the villain – the more pitiable the tragedy.

It’s hard to write that villain. Mostly because I struggle to keep the plot alive. Or to remember who my protagonist is. If anyone could gets their hands on the trash I wrote in high school… GOD that stuff is terrible… but the villains keep turning into the “good guys.” I kept coming up with their motivations and then I needed to find something else to drive the badness of the plot.

“WHY is this guy enslaving his people? OOOH, his heart was stolen by a demon and if he doesn’t feed the demon the fear and suffering… they’ll kill him and make him a puppet. So he’s trying to minimize the suffering that would cause.  Awww… shit I’ve got 20,000 words without a lick of foresight about that.”

I still struggle with it. I want to write the novel (I keep trying to write the novel) where the protagonist becomes the villain. I’ve read some books that got close to it. My favorite is Imperial Woman by Pearl Buck which is a fictional biography of Tzu-hsi, the last empress of China. It’s even better because it has facts mixed throughout the personal telling. But by the end of the book I was growling at her for being afraid of change – even as I understood it and grieved for her fears and trembled (knowing the outcome of things like the Boxer Rebellion).

My villain would begin the book/series as a hero. I think a classic hero, chosen for goodness and justice and all those good virtues. Then put the hero in tough positions where sometimes it’s hard to say there is a right answer. Slowly the hero starts to gain faithful followers, but has to crush enemies in order to maintain peace. Not that the hero wants the power, but it’s expected – and those opposing the hero do sound pretty awful. The flout the law. They disrupt lives. They kill good people. The little people need their hero leader.

So the hero must stop them. When prison doesn’t work, death must be delivered. When mere death doesn’t stop a pernicious rebellion tortures more and more extreme are pulled out to convince people to stop fighting. Staking this innocent village to draw out the bandits in the woods. The hero doesn’t want to kill everyone, just keep them from fighting against the hero’s naturally good and just leadership. Fear is better than killing, right?

I have tried to start this project several times, and I’ve slipped, fallen, twisted, and cried. But I’m going to keep trying to tackle this tale. I think it’s important for us to see the slope where we justify our actions. Where we look at our choices with our personal influences and therefore don’t question. When did we cross the line? When did we look at the enemy across the room and not see they are the hero and we are the villain?

I think villains are more fun because they are like me.