Wednesday, 22 August 2012

I've been expecting you, Mr Bond

What makes a good villain?

I've been beta reading something recently and one of my constructive criticisms was that the characters I perceived to be the bad guys just didn't cut it for me. Their motivation was around climbing the corporate ladder and getting their own back on people who had spited them previously.

Should a villain be evil? Evil isn't that interesting. True evil is sad little men finding themselves in positions of power and murdering millions of people through the application of bureaucracy. Who was the most evil character in Star Wars. It wasn't Darth Vader, it was Grand Moff Tarkin who blew up an entire world. Nor is evil attractive (to those of us that consider ourselves to be sane).  The moors murderers have been in the news a lot this week and nobody can consider them anything other than abhorrent. 

Do we need a villain? Writing courses talk about the antagonist. The person whose sole purpose in the story is to place barriers in the hero's path and potentially be the source of threat. Does the antagonist need to be a villain. In Echo the main antagonist is trying to kill York and those around him, but their motivation is as much about preservation of the Empire rather than personal gain, spite, underlying character flaw or psychopathic tendencies. If you want to judge, then remember that York is responsible for something in the reason of 50,000 deaths on the nineteen ships destroyed by the Nemesis during the war and Echo cheerfully murders her way through the entire book. In Echo 2 I'm starting to work up a couple of antagonist characters but both are honourable, honest, professional people with great integrity. If the book was written from the point of view of the Realm, they would be the heroes and Echo and York would come across as monsters.

In most books an antagonist of some kind is necessary. Until they're dead/ imprisoned / exiled/ rehabilitated then there's no closure. But I've concluded that they don't need to be evil. They do, however, need to have a clear reason for being the bad guy and, if possible, they need to be interesting.

Cats are optional

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