I took a class at the 9th Annual Scottsdale Library Workshops from award-winning author Shelley Coriell. Simply reading the name of the class, Villains: An Author’s Best Friends, was a huge enticement for me, and I looked forward to it for weeks in advance.
I have been especially interested in villains since, as a teenager, I saw Alan Rickman play the Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. The idea that villains could be creepy and funny was new to me. Since then, there have been other similar villains to love; Alan Rickman again as Professor Snape, Heath Ledger as the Joker, or Collin Farrell as Bobby Pellitt in Horrible Bosses.
I have found that when I write I tend to make my villains both creepy and funny, or at least give the scenes with the villains some humor if I can. Science fiction tends to lend itself fairly well to villains that are both sinister and comical. Jabba the Hut, Agent Smith, and Loki exemplify the wide range of these types of villains that science fiction has to offer. In my first novella, Salvation, I wrote the main villain as a reptilian with a speech impediment who loved his whip a little too much.
Back to Shelley’s class, one of her main points was that to accurately portray the villain’s perspective, an author must imagine an outcome where the villain is the victor. All too often, authors simply invent the villain as someone to foil the hero, rather than as the hero of their own world.
I took her advice in the steampunk series I am working on. I have made a serious effort to make each of the villains complete. They are already heroes of their own world, complete with back story and relationships that preexist the book, just like the heroes. They are formidable, relentless, and best of all, convinced that the evil they do is right. Each of the villains believes he is going to win – and in fact can’t imagine a scenario where he isn’t the victor.
I have found that after this exercise, as the heroes encounter the villains the battles are more complex and more emotional. There is anger, resentment, and fear, along with a whole bevy of other emotions from both sides. There is also an element of surprise that I have never written into my villains before, when the villain finally understands that the hero might be up to the task of defeating him.
So although the books are novellas and time spent with the villains is rare, I found that spending the extra time imagining the villains as the heroes of their own worlds – expecting to be victorious in the end – to be time well spent.
On to your opinion: Who are your favorite villains, and what do you think really makes them ‘come to life’ on the page?