The villain in a story needs to have a heart and soul. I know that statement goes against the grain, but it’s true. You can’t write a fabulous main character and then make the villain a marshmallow. No, in order to ratchet up the conflict the villain must be as good as your main character, but of course, have an evil twist.
‘Easier said than done’, you say.
I know, but as a writer we must try.
While it might be hard to envision a twisted character with good characteristics, you should make sure the good side glows, but their dark side blinds. Look at the anti-hero in the Showtime series, Dexter. I’ll admit to having a few misgivings while rooting for a serial killer that just offs bad guys, but I could never watch the scenes where Dexter went dark. I looked away, covered my face, or refreshed my drink. I could not keep watching when the show’s writers gave him a baby to raise while he still went out on killing sprees.
But this internal conflict I felt is what I’m talking about. The writers gave Dexter a baby to raise, and Dexter worried over his ability to parent just like the rest of us. But, Dexter gets to put the baby to bed and then out he goes to satisfy his “dark passenger.” My mind had trouble with his hand gently brushing hair from his son’s eyes and then that same hand ramming a knife into someone’s chest. Sometimes, he agonized over murdering people he befriended, but as long as he followed his personal set of rules, a code of honor, the viewers accepted Dexter. It’s sick when you get right down to it.
Dexter, the character, has good characteristics and he’s likable right up until the moment he murders. The actor, Michael C. Hall, is incredible and showcases exactly how the dark side blinds. His face becomes scary in the killing scenes.
I’d be remiss here, as a writer, if I didn’t point out the show Dexter is based on the novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay.
If you’re having trouble with your villain, if his dark side overwhelms his good side or if he has no good side, then he’s not sympathetic or believable. And, if he’s not believable it weakens your main character’s motivations and leaves your reader unsatisfied.
In real life there are bad people, and maybe they don’t have a good side. But in fiction, if we want to make a reader care, if we want the reader to keep turning pages, we must make them feel the conflict when the hero and villain meet in the last scene. With Dexter, fans worried he’d get caught, fans worried his sister would find out the truth, fans worried and I worried about a stone cold killer. Good writing and good acting led to a great show.
The quickest route to making your reader worry, to make their stomach coil into knots and make their heartbeat vibrate like a drum, is to make the villain sympathetic around a universal theme that every reader can identify with. Like sibling rivalry, parental problems, love issues, or make their desire for revenge understandable even if twisted. Compose your villain as a hero and then give him/her a dark twist.
Last, reveal your villain slowly. Show him hurting and sympathetic and then unravel the normalcy until the dark side is finally revealed.
Readers, who are your favorite villains?