Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Characters: bad guys

It’s often said that characters know what kind of book/film they’re in from how they behave. Try to avoid over-obvious character stereotyping in your writing but be aware of the kind of work you’re producing and the genre you’re working in, if only to subvert it a little and push the creative envelope.

Making Bad Characters - really bad characters.

First impressions. You might not introduce a villain too early, but have other characters talk about him or her first, to add to tension, delay entrance. This is what Thomas Harris does with Hannibal Lecter in ‘Silence of the Lambs’. First impressions may be wrong, and the devil may have a charming face - or he can be instantly up-front nasty or eerie.

Attitudes. Especially villains' attitudes to and lack of empathy with others. Do they lie and cheat and consider it clever? Are they manipulative? Snobby? Racist? Sexist? Cruel? Do they have real relationships with others, or do they see letting down their guard as a sign of weakness?

Actions. Show their nature by repulsive actions. Also let their victims be tragic, pathetic.

The impression they make. Other baddies might admire them, others never. They show a meanness of spirit, or a 'black hole' of a personality which the reader never truly penetrates.

Their reactions to situations. Always selfish in some way. However complex their response to a situation, the ultimate aim is to look after number one.

Their needs. Let your bad characters have wants instead of aims, ambitions centred ultimately on their own interest alone.

But villains can be attractive!

Give them plenty of charisma, wit, brains. Villains can charm the reader with their courage and ability to do things the reader may long to do but can't. Bad guys can be winners.

They can get back at society - particularly effective when aimed at faceless organisations. They’re rebels, and other characters around them can be even worse and ripe for comeuppance.

This time the heroes or good guys can find something to admire in your baddies. Let them be a contrast to others in the story. Let them stand tall when those around creep. Allow the reader to understand them and the forces that have made them by showing aspects of their past and nature and letting the reader get inside their heads with more sympathetic thoughts. Allow them to share with another, to have a relationship with another. Loners might appear attractive, but not if they remain so throughout.

Next time: the good guys!



Linda Banche said...

Interesting points. I would think writing a villain with some good points is harder than writing a completely bad person. Although, when an attractive person is the villain, the revelation of his true nature is even more powerful

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Linda, I agree with you on both points.

Bekki Lynn said...

Very insightful post, Lindsay. I love how you listed the points without giving drawn out explanations. That's the kind of help that's easier to follow.

I've written a couple of villians and really wasn't sure I'd gone about it the right way. I feel so much better about them now. :)

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Bekki! I'm glad you found it interesting.

Savanna Kougar said...

Lindsay, thanks. Like Bekki said you provided some new insights on how to write the villains.
I think Disney has one of the best approaches to villains -- make them as bad as the character is good.

Lindsay Townsend said...

I agree, Savanna. I also love the way the wicked queen is drawn in Snow White and Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. And the Beast himself - the first sight of him is dark and savage, pointing up his temper. As the story goes on, his appearance gradually changes and refines as other parts of his character are revealed.

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