Originally written as a guest blog post. If you would like to feature it on your blog, you are more than welcome to. Simply link to The Vampire Flynn Series blog in my author attribution.
The Paper-Thin Villain – Adding More Dimension to Your Bad Guy
Picture the scene, if you will.
A mad scientist looms over his table, admiring the monster laid out on the slab before him. Rubbing his hands together, he grins wickedly while taking in the culmination of years’ worth of work. His trusty sidekick Igor hobbles over to him, his gimp leg and humped back giving him a ghastly, yet, cartoonish appearance. “It’s alive!” the mad scientist declares. He repeats it once more for emphasis. “It’s alive!”
Now, absent from this scenario is any idea as to who this villain is and why we should care. Granted, unleashing a menacing monster upon the populace is enough reason why anybody should scorn the evil creator, but both he and the hero look two-dimensional when one leaves it at this. The hero will swoop in and defeat the monster. And he might even slay the scientist before he is able to scurry away. But before the end of the piece, we are still left with one question: Why?
It is a question we ask more often of the hero than the villain. Why does Prince Charming rescue the fair maiden from the brink of certain doom? What motivates the teenage girl to summon a maturity well beyond her years as she defeats the establishment? Too often the coin is not flipped, however, and the same questions are not asked of the antagonist.
Picture the above scene, once again, but with more thought into the motives of our villain:
Dr. Menacing paused amidst the flurry of activity to study his new creation. Its features were gruesome, its body a patchwork mess of pieces cobbled together from fresh graves and stolen cadavers, but it bore a beauty only a parent could appreciate. Caressing the side of his monster’s face in a loving stroke, his mind became lost in the throes of memory.
He hadn’t meant to be a villain. He still recalled a time when he lived in the village, untouched by the world’s burdens and enchanted both with his work and the beautiful milkmaid whom he had married. It was perfect, something interrupted only when his wife collapsed on the floor one evening under strange circumstances. The village doctor had no idea how to treat her. In the days which followed, her condition went from bad to worse until it became terminal. He had only wanted to find a way to cure her, then sought a way to make her immortal.
Now, they called him mad. It was a pity she was not alive to argue otherwise.
A sound broke him from his thoughts and led his gaze toward his assistant. The disfigured dwarf had been a willing accomplice, himself cast out of the village for not fitting in to their cookie-cutter mold. He smirked in a manner which mirrored the twisted smile on Dr. Menacing’s face.
Dr. Menacing nodded, his voice a loud breech upon a quiet, peaceful world. “It’s alive!” he said in a shrill cry which set even Igor’s teeth on edge. The scientist felt power pulsing through him and declared it once again. “It’s alive!”
Now, the above piece suffers from moments of telling without showing, but you understand my point. In a longer narrative, we might open on a young genius with his beautiful wife and their cottage in the village. We might see the ostracized scientist, but with a bounce in his step brought about by the love inside his heart. Until the day she falls ill and necessity spurs him to find a cure for her condition, even if it drives him insane. His slow descent into madness might accompany her slip into death. And when she dies, so does that thread which kept him tethered to reality.
How does this impact the hero?
The hero might have been an old friend – the one person who understood all along that Dr. Menacing was not a bad man deep, down inside. When his friend’s wife dies, it drives a wedge between the men which lasts for years as one pursues one path, and one, another. Their lives do not cross again until talk of a monster stirs the village and Mr. Hero tells himself, surely it could not be his old friend Dr. Menacing. The moment he sees the twisted ghost of a man he once knew, though, it ceases all denial. Menacing has never crawled out from the pit. And Hero is faced with the gut-wrenching realization that only he knows enough about Menacing to stop him.
The details might change, but the best stories are ones in which the villains are craftier, or more conflicted, or show some sign of a past which has led them to become what they currently are. They might want the nations to fall on their knees before them, but at some point, something drove them into the maw of madness or caused their sociopathic tendencies to have much more damaging avenues. The meddlesome wizard gets locked into a deal with a demon and forced to plan the destruction of the world. Along the way, though, a seed germinates, and the wicked becomes the diabolical.
So, before you pen your own Dr. Menacing, think about who he is and why he wants to unleash his monster upon a quiet village. It will add depth and color to your tale, even if his past never makes it into the pages of your book.