For your story to be believable you need good characters, and you need to understand what makes them tick. Characters have to act and react in realistic ways. Their actions drive the plot forward. We spend a lot of time on our main characters, their motives, and goals, internal and external conflicts that get in the way of your satisfying denouement.
But, what about the villains?
Oh, villains can just be evil just because. Or they can have what they perceive as honorable intentions, a reason for their actions. Sometimes the rationale can become corrupted and make them unpredictable or even create a god like persona.
Think about the brilliant, but cold-blooded commander, Colonel Tavington, in The Patriot. Originally, his motivation is putting down what he perceives as treason. A noble goal, but he also has another motivation for serving—his father has left him penniless. And Cornwallis has promised him land in exchange for his services. So recouping money and his prestige is also an underlying motive. Tavington also believes in ‘total warfare’, meaning civilians helping the enemy are also the enemy. So this justifies his often-brutal treatment of civilians. Even though he is reprimanded for his atrocities he still feels right is on his side. Tavington comes to look at Benjamin Martin, as an obstacle in the way of what perceives as his right, plus Martin makes a fool of Tavington. So now we also have personal conflict.
Martin: Before this war is over, I'm going to kill you.
Tavington: Why wait?
You’ve taken sides. You want to see this villain die for his atrocities. The conclusion has more impact because the villain was well depicted and it leaves the reader/viewer satisfied.
The writers understood their villain. He was real.
I recently realized I had a good story premise. I had a good reason for the hero and heroine to fight to save a species, but I also realized my villain and his organization didn’t have a good motivation for being evil. Why was he hunting the hero? Why did it matter if the heroine remembered the fire? What did the villain have to lose or gain? What motivated his actions? Until I could figure that out the story stalled and took power away from the actions of my two main characters. Sort of another ah-ha moment for me.
How much time do you spend on creating a believable bad guy? Do you understand why does what he does? His motivations and goals?
- Let’s talk villains. Who are some of your favorites? Why?