(Here’s the series introduction so you’re not completely confused by my special guest and the dialogue nature of this post.)
Edward: strolls into the room Have you seen my coat?
Gabrielle: doesn’t look up from reading the Count of Monte Cristo It’s in the coat closet. You left it on the floor, so I picked it up for you.
Edward: Why would you do that?
Gabrielle: I got motivated to clean for once. shudders Characters can get really messy.
Edward: I leave my things on the floor for a reason. There is a place for everything, and for everything there is a place.
Gabrielle: You just said the same thing twice.
Edward: Silence, peasant.
Gabrielle: Aren’t you supposed to be teaching a lesson or something?
Edward: Realizes he’s being watched by readers Ahem. he straightens Good morning, friends.
Gabrielle: mutters something about a lame introduction
Edward: glares at her In this inaugural post, I want to cover a topic very dear to my heart (if I had one). No, I don’t speak of the tampering of personal property. sends a pointed glare Gabrielle’s way
I want to discuss the greatest sin of all literary misdemeanors.
Pauses for dramatic effect
I speak of flat villains.
Flat villains are often little more than plot devices. The hero must have someone to oppose his pitiful efforts, so writers insert a random character with a twirly mustache and a cackling laugh whose only goal is to cause trouble. Why? He probably has an unquenchable lust for power. Where did this desire originate? It remains a mystery.
This is never how a villain, let alone a normal human being, operates. Evil masterminds like myself contain depths too deep for the unoriginal writer to understand.
But you are not unoriginal, are you? You desire a glorious villain worthy of your readers’ time.
It takes only four elements to create the skeleton of a deep villain: a goal, a reason, a value, and an origin.
Four Steps to Eliminate a Flat Villain: #1 Goals
A villain’s goal is what he wants within your story. If your villain has none, he’s worse than flat. He’s lazy. Purposeless. But, if he has a goal, he’s chasing it. Acting.
For a personal example, I may or may not have a slight thirst for money.
Edward: Yes, slight. Say I wanted to rob the largest bank in the world. That’s my goal. Your protagonist is a security guard. It’s his desire––foolish as it is––to stop me. We clash, I win, your protagonist dies, and your story is over.
Gabrielle: Clears her throat
Edward: Where was I? Ah, yes. now a villain needs a motivation.
A goal must have a motivation behind it. If there is none, the legitimacy of your character disappears.
My reason for stealing? It lends me security. I can bribe anyone to do my bidding with a flash of gold.
A motivation must spring from a set of values ingrained in a villain’s worldview. I steal money because I believe it’s the most efficient way to gain wealth. I steal because I deserve it.
I deserve what I steal because I’m stronger and smarter than my opponents. Underneath my goal and motivation lies a survival of the fittest mentality.
Goals spring from motivations, and motivations spring from values.
The worldview that permits a villain to believe and act the way he does must have a source. A villain doesn’t become evil at the snap of a finger. His ethics are shaped by his circumstances, childhood, past treatment, etc.
Now in conclusion….
Gabrielle: What about an example?
Edward: I have none to give.
Gabrielle: steals the computer from Edward Edward wants money because he wants security, right? Well, he hasn’t had a ton of stability in his life. His dad didn’t earn enough money to provide for him when he was a kid, and Edward’s family was homeless for a while. They lived in the wrong part of town and Edward got beat up a lot because he didn’t have the strength to escape or the means to bribe his way out. But with money, he can––
Edward: jerks the computer away None of that happened. Ignore her.
Edward: mutters indistinguishable threats Anyway. A goal, a reason, a value, and an origin are great starts to a dimensional villain. This is not everything that must be done, mind you. You must get to know your villain beyond my four steps. But, this is a start. A fantastic one if I do say so myself. Turns to leave
Gabrielle: Hold up.
Gabrielle: You said there’s a reason for everything, right? What’s your reason for leaving your coat on the floor? How does that spring from your values?
Edward: slowly smiles A simple mind like yours would not understand the subtle methods of the intelligent. The world is in a struggle between order and its natural state of chaos. Weak humans now fill the earth, striving to control the chaos and soften nature’s sharp influences, wrestling their existence from the meager earth.
Epic fog fills the floor The truly wise embrace the disorder. Every misplacement is intentional, aiding in returning the earth to its natural state. It drives humanity to their beginnings, when the brutal need to survive created a mighty race that has since degenerated.
Gabrielle: …Wow. Maybe you need to do an article on cliché evil monologing.
Edward: grins I’m jesting. I left my coat on the floor because I was feeling lazy.
Edward: Straightens. I believe we’ve kept these readers long enough. he bows Until next time. disappears in an epic cape swirl and lots of mysterious fog
Gabrielle: Waves random fog away Well, that was interesting. What do you think about Edward’s lesson? For one, I’m not so sure flat villains are the worst literary sin, but it’s Edward. What can I expect?
What are your favorite ways to flesh out your villains?
Gabrielle R. Pollack and Edward Stone