Caution: Villains Can Kill Your Story!
Your main character may survive the bad guy's beating, shooting and stabbing him. But your story can suffer--and die--if you don't know how to pick the right antagonist and how to integrate him into your story.
Make a villain a stand-out on his own and he can send your story to the book cemetery.
Why is that? More important, how do YOU write YOUR stories so the villain stays in his rightful place?
WHO'S IN CHARGE?
All cast members, from vile villains and silly sidekicks to the unnamed waitress and cab driver, are onboard to serve one purpose: to support the story, which means to provide the protagonist with the help and hindrance he needs to traverse that plot. Readers see themselves through your protagonist and everyone else in your story is there to support (or complicate) that protagonist's life. It isn't that those other characters aren't important in themselves--they are. But for this particular view of that particular plot, the filter for the story is the protagonist. And the villain will be viewed by readers as he (or she) relates to that main character's adventure.
Us → Everyone else
It's just human nature: We always come first. Okay, maybe we don't in our own lives at times. Kids need us, family first and all that. But when we read a book, by golly, we WANT to come first! Which is why we want that protagonist to be the main, primary, and single focus of the story. We want to be the single focus of our own lives. And reading allows us to escape into what we really want: Me first.
WHY WE LOVE (TO HATE) VILLAINS
We also l love to hate the villain. Why? Because we all have adversaries in our lives. And we'd love to defeat them! In real life we don't always have that option, which is why in our reading, that is exactly what we want to do.
The key to writing a strong book is to understand the best type of antagonist to craft to fit your story's needs.
Writers can get carried away. If you write a villain with lots of background and depth and purpose, that's great! But ONLY when those details are necessary to better understand how that villain will relate to your main character and overall story.
Overdone villains make a story lopsided and defeat the real purpose: drawing readers into the life and challenges of the protagonist.
WHEN A VILLAIN RULESIf you just love that villain so much that he overshadows everything else, just maybe you want the bad guy to BE the main character! Which is fine. Understanding THAT is your focus will help you craft a stronger story, concentrating on the villain AS your protagonist.
Then, suddenly the other characters, probably some of which you would have originally considered the good guys, will become the thorn in your new (bad) protagonist's side.
There are a multitude of villain types to choose from:
- Pure Evil
- Wannabe Evil
- Minion of Evil
- Willing to be Evil (for its benefits)
- Tricked into being Evil Misguided into Evil
- Forced into Evil
All these archetypes are valuable – but some serve different stories better than others.
Once you've determined which type of antagonist works best for your story, conside