Love Your Villain

*Note: this post is being re-blogged. It was written when I was using Blogger as a platform. I am revisiting it now that I’ve switched to WordPress. Cheers, V.

I love Twitter. It’s full of tips and tidbits for writers. Even if I already knew some of the things my fellow Tweeps are tweeting about, you can never have too many reminders.

Like this little gem from ThEditors:

Characters are everything. Your readers won’t care about your plot if they don’t care about your characters.

Obvious, right? …. Errrr, maybe less so than you’d think.

The mistake I’ve seen made time and again is that writers only apply this invaluable piece of advice to the protagonists, and to the ancillary, protagonist-like characters. To their own disservice, however, they forget about one of the most important characters in their story: the villain.

Wait a minute – you need to care about the villain? But s/he’s evil. S/he’s dastardly. S/he’s not the one we want to win. Right?

Well, yes. And no.

How many times have you picked up a book and discovered a villain that is so evil, so one-dimentionally bad that you lose interest in him (or her)? After all, with an antagonist that gruesome, you know the hero and heroine are going to come out on top. It’s the unbreakable rule of the romance paradigm: good must conquer evil.

Unfortunately, in writing such a hands-down bad girl (or guy), you turn your villain into a caricature, someone that your readers can’t relate to. And if you introduce a caricature, your story becomes formulaic.

That may have worked 50 years ago in the days of Disney’s Snow White, but it’s not going to cut it in this day and age. Readers are far too savvy.

Snow White is a perfect example, actually. In the original Disney film, did we really care that the queen was brought down in the end? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t. She’s rotten. She’s horrid. Of course she has to be brought down.

Snow White lives, marries the prince, happily ever after, yada yada yada, the end.

Now consider the most recent interpretation of the classic fairytale: Snow White and the Huntsman. In this rendition, the evil queen, Ravenna, is not quite the caricature her animated predecessor was.

Have you seen Snow White and the Huntsman? Do you remember the scene where Ravenna, played by the ravishing Charlize Theron (the fairest in the land if ever there was such a person), remembers how her mother died? Do you remember the hurt, the scars, the single tear?

Yeah, she’s evil. We know that. But by introducing that scene, the director makes us do something … he makes us care about her. Even if it’s only for a moment, we don’t all-out hate her.

And that gives Snow White and the Huntsman the depth that the savvy reader of today demands. Not only do we care about Ravenna, but we care about Snow White. We care about her huntsman. We are that much more invested, more emotionally bonded, when Ravenna finally does bite the dust.

There are so many examples I could bring up. But in the interest of time, I’ll skip that, and say this: loving your villain does not mean s/he has to be redeemed. It just means you need to give your readers insight into why s/he is bad.

And if that’s not in the cards for your story (it’s perfectly alright if it’s not, by the way – maybe someone is just plain bad like Lord Reginald D’Aubrey in my Highland Loyalties series), then at least don’t make your readers hate your villain on every page. Let them see the side of your villain which makes him or her human. Flawed. Frail.

Despise the villain, sure. Just not all the time.

Everybody knows you have to write characters people care about. But you need to remember that should extend to all of your characters. That is how you make your story truly memorable.

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