I mentioned that I was trying a writing experiment with POV. It’s taken more time than I expected it to, but I met my goals. Each day this week, I’ve put one part of a short story on my webpage, with one more to go up tomorrow. Each part was from a different POV character. What have I learned?
It’s fun writing from the villain/antagonist’s POV. I don’t do that very often. As a matter of fact, I use third person, single POV in every series I write except Fallen Angels. Those are the only books I write with multiple POV, and I still rarely write from the villain’s veiwpoint. I think it might be hard to do without giving too much away, but it worked for a short piece. And letting myself live inside Merlot’s head helped me understand her more. I read once that villains don’t think of themselves as bad or wrong. Instead, they focus on what they want, what they’re striving to do, and they justify their actions. They often feel they’ve been wronged, and they’re putting things right. Merlot has that tendency. Hezra, on the other hand, (in part 4), decided to turn to the dark arts and makes no bones about the fact that she wants power. It was fun writing from her perspective, too, but I still wanted to make her an individual–not just the “evil” who battles my protagonist.
I’m putting up the last part of the story tomorrow–the big showdown–but this experiment has made me think more about villains/antagonists. For me, Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series really got interesting when she had Hugh D’Ambray walk onto the pages to play mind games with Kate and to battle her and Curran. For me, she created two of the most intriguing “bad guys” I’ve read for a long time when Hugh and Kate’s father, Roland, became active in the series. Not that she hasn’t had a strong, almost invincible enemy in every book. That’s part of urban fantasy, but Hugh and Roland are unpredictable and do the unexpected, and that’s made them really interesting. She’s made them such a blend of good and bad that the reader has mixed feelings about them. It’s sort of like reading The Silence of the Lambs. I hated Dr. Chilton more than Hannibal Lecter. Odd, right? But a really well-done villain can pull a reader’s emotions in strange directions. For that reason, I’ve decided to spend just as much time on my villains and antagonists as I do on my protagonists from now on. They can really make a story zing.
Every writer knows that a strong villain makes for a strong story. The higher stakes, the faster the pages turn. There are the obvious, fictitious, bad guys–like the evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella, the enticing Hannibal Lecter, and the over-the-top Cruella de Vil, who’ll kill cute puppies to have a one-of-a-kind, fur coat. But no villain declares his motives as clearly as Shakespeare’s Richard the III, who declares in his opening soliloquy “…And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.” And prove himself he does (at least in the play).
I believe that one of the reasons Harry Potter was such a success is that Voldemort was such an excellent villain. He was twisted and powerful…and fascinating. In lots of myths and fantasies, the battle comes down to good versus evil. Look at Lord of the Rings and the Dark Lord Sauron, who commanded the Orcs. Here’s a link to 50 of the best villains in literature: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3560987/50-greatest-villains-in-literature.html They come in all shapes and sizes. Some of your favorites might or might not have made the cut. But sometimes, villains can be more subtle. Moriarity plays mind games with Sherlock Holmes, and the villain smiles and welcomes us in many an Agatha Christie mystery. Annie Wilkes is an author’s biggest fan in Stephen Kings’ Misery.
In my novel Fallen Angels, I tried for a few kinds of villains–the serial killer who preys on women; Vlad, the favored, spoiled vampire who constantly breaks the rules; and the hero’s best friend, who’s also his most dangerous adversary. But all the while, as Caleb creates and sanctions vampires, he stays committed to thinking of Enoch as a “brother.” It’s a complicated relationship, and hopefully, Caleb makes for a complicated villain. But whatever your taste in bad guys, a good book depends on them. Which would you call your favorite?