Friday, January 25, 2013

Creating A Villain

Not all villains are a single person.
(The flag of the Alliance; Firefly)
This post wasn't even remotely what I had in mind for this week's blog topic. It wasn't what I wanted. It wasn't what I was interested in. But, at 6:15 this morning, I realized it was what I needed.

See, I was hoping to start writing a new book this week. It wasn't that I had any genius ideas burning in my head. Instead, it was because I was obsessing over this project that I was supposed to be letting rest, and I couldn't seem to force myself to focus on the project I was supposed to be working on. great idea was to start writing SOMETHING ELSE.

With that (and unfortunately nothing else) in my mind, I started researching How To Create A Plot, and it didn't take long before I found this genius site. Actually, this is a post about outlining your plot, which is a different creature entirely from creating a plot, but it's kind of amazing how the two things intertwine.

The villain in Chuck
(Daniel Shaw)
In a nutshell, Glen Strathy's premise is that the very first thing you need is a Story Goal, which is the thing your main character is trying to accomplish. The second thing you need is a Consequence, which is the negative thing that will happen if the Story Goal is not achieved. Or--important distinction here--what the main character THINKS will happen if the story goal is not achieved.

Step 3, Requirements, is basically a checklist of things that have to happen in order for the reader to feel like your protagonist is getting closer to their goal, and Step 4 is Forewarnings, or events that happen that show that the consequence is also drawing near.

Voldemort from Harry Potter
I'm skipping a lot of good stuff here, including some important steps, so if this seems like an interesting way to plot, please go check out the blog post. As I started brainstorming plots using this method (which was not really created for brainstorming plots, I get that. But it works!)  I came up with some really interesting ideas. My Story Goal was pretty easy to come up with: My character wants to find a way back to her family. There are a zillion other stories out there with the same Story Goal. What makes it different are the details--Why isn't she already with her family? Where is she? Who is keeping her from being at home?

These are the questions that complicate everything, and soon enough, my mind was stalled in the exact same spot it stalls with every book I've ever written. The villain. It's like I get there, and realize there's a whole other story that needs to get told, or maybe even two. While my characters are busy with the minutia of their lives, there are politics unfolding, wars happening, and a million other things I need to know about if I'm going to create a villain, including my world's history, and his/her life story (if the villain is a person.)

Stories don't need a villain, but they do need a conflict. Your character might conflict with another character (villainous or otherwise), with nature, with society, or with himself. For better or for worse, I'm lumping all of these things into the word 'villain'.

The Wicked Witch of the West
Basically, my inability to see through my villain's eyes is what was keeping me from working on my original project, and so I'm shelving this new, shiny idea for now (it's got potential though, so you may see it again someday) and going back to the project I should have been working on all along.

In my experience, plotting my villain's story isn't much fun, but it still needs to be done, and Mr. Strathy's Plot Outline steps seem like a great way to do it. I'll keep you posted. I'm hoping for nothing less than breaking through a wall that's been hindering me for nearly four years now.


  1. This is something I've been thinking about lately as well. I have this thing about me where I don't like to hate people. I always try to understand where a person is coming from, and not judge bad behavior until I can find an answer as to why the behavior is happening. This is a fault, I think when it comes to writing, because in order for there to be justifiable action, the villain needs to deserve it. Without a villain who deserves action to stop, you are left with stories where the characters are wavering between options, and are too weak to be interesting.

    I love this consequence of failing idea. I think that will help me a ton in my current WIP.

    Thanks Melanie.

    1. Sheena--I'm totally the same way. I have to get into their heads, and if they aren't sympathetic enough for me to do that, the story stalls. If they are sympathetic enough, I tend to want to write a sequel where the reform and find happiness. And my villains are almost always hot. Don't ask me why. Except one, and I think you probably know the one I'm talking about.

  2. I actually love creating villains. They can be so much fun because they can say and do all those things that polite society keeps us from saying and doing. Wow, does that make me sound like a bad person?

    I don't like hating people either, but I think a villain can deserve what he/she gets and still be sympathetic and even somewhat likable. There are just some lines that should never be crossed.

    1. I should enlist your help with my villain. My story is still stalled, though now I think it's my main characters fault and not the villains. It's a sequel, and although there are many unanswered questions left from the first book, I can't seem to make myself interested in answering them. I hate to give up, but this new idea is still awfully shiny.

  3. Oh, this is excellent. Making villains 'real' is something I struggle with, too. It was always interesting to me that in Voldemort's life, he was basically another Harry Potter who took a different path. I've wondered if juxtaposing some of the protags strengths and weaknesses can help round out the antagonist, or at least help me see them more clearly?
    The link is great, too. Thanks!

    1. That is a very good idea, Susan, and as usual, you are a notch or two above me when it comes to writing. I'm going to give that idea a try though, though I'll probably fail spectacularly.

  4. I find at least one trait I like/understand/can relate to for my antagonist. That makes it easier for me to get into their head. Maybe the whole reason my villain is being so evil has nothing to do with hate. Maybe he thinks this is the only way to save his son, or he believes--really believes--that he's acting in the interest of the greater good. If he were telling the story, he'd be the hero. In fact, the only thing that separates my villain from my hero is which one I choose to follow as a writer.

    I really enjoyed your post! Good luck getting into your villain's head. I hope you get a chance to finish the story. :)

    1. You know what they say--the country that wins the war is the one that gets to write the history books. Sounds like it's the same thing with your books. I hope I get to read one one of these days. Thanks, Trisha!

  5. Melanie, that is one of my very favorite writing websites because it presents plot in a different way from all the other advice I've read. I have it bookmarked and have been over the advice over and over again, but you tapped into another issue that I realized was holding me back. I keep thinking of people I want to write about without knowing what problems I want them to face, and then the story falls flat pretty quickly because I'm just coming up with a problem to throw at my heroine without really understanding why it's happening, to her, right now. But if I started with a villain I think the plotting would go much more smoothly. I will let you know when I test that theory :)

  6. It's the first time I've ever gone there, and I was impressed that he wasn't just re-using the same ideas on plot (useful as those are.) It's great when I unexpectedly get to look at things from a new point of view.


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