This is part 4 of my series on How to write a fantasy novel.
Who is your ultimate fantasy villain? Is it Voldemort? The White Witch of Narnia?
What did J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis do to make you love to hate them?
They crafted their villains with redeeming qualities.
Villains aren’t inherently evil anymore than protagonists are inherently good. One thing to keep in mind is that villains don’t see themselves as evil. They have a purpose that makes complete sense to them, even though to the rest of us, their actions and ways of getting what they want are vicious and malevolent.
Villains aren’t always evil in appearance. They can be quite good-looking, charming, lovable. These types of villains usually feel they’ve been given the raw side of life since the day they were born. They are often misunderstood and always have some sort of underlying issue we can relate to and empathize with: child abuse, bullied as a kid, ignored by parents. Once we understand where the ‘anger’ comes from, we, as readers, can understand, though not necessarily agree with, the villains motives for his destructive behavior.
One of the great things I love about writing villains is I can unleash the ‘evil’ side of me and project it on my villains. Think about it. How many times has someone done something to you or your family and you wish you could slap them silly or rip their heads off, but we can’t because…well, it’s wrong. Our villains, however, have no sense of right or wrong. They want justice. Retaliation. Getting even. As writers, we can allow our villains to rip the heads off people, and get away with it…for a while. Remember, evil never prevails in a fantasy novel, but we can certainly make the ride to his/her final resting place a roller coaster of heart-stopping events.
Another sort of villain to consider is the heroic villain, villains who set out to correct a wrong. Think Anikan Sykwalker. Good guy, until his parents were killed. All he wanted was to set things right. To hand out justice. He believed he should be able to use his power to set the world right. Unfortunately, his own power and greed corrupted him, and his inner nemesis, Darth Vader, took over. So strong was the ‘dark side’, he almost killed his son. In the end, good overcame the bad and we all remember the final scene between Luke and his father. Again, in fantasy, good always wins.
Another thing to remember when writing villains is never allow them to give your MC a break. The MC always needs to be on his toes, on the lookout, for his rival. Unless you are writing a comedy, the hero can’t rely on the villain to be a bungling idiot. The villain has to be smart, cunning, and always seemingly one step ahead of the hero.
If you’re writing a fantasy novel for kids, consider making your villain a woman. Kids love their moms because they see them as caregivers. A child’s worst nightmare is to have the loving, motherly character turn on them. That’s why witches work so well in young children’s stories.
No matter what sort of story you write, make sure your villains can justify their behavior. They must perceive their actions as logical and they must have a goal they are trying to obtain. Make them as scary or charming as you want, but always give them an understandable human side that readers can relate to and empathize.