Thursday, January 16, 2014

Complex Villains

Happy Thursday, everyone! Welcome back to another post on the blog. Today, we're gonna talk about villains and how to make them complex without making them kitschy or accidentally turning them into loveable people. Are you ready? Grab your pens and notebooks and let's get going!

In order to properly discuss bad guys (and gals) we're gonna take a look at some of the nastiest villains ever created and break them down. Who creates the best ones? Well, that's up in the air. But to be sure most of you have heard of the villains I'm discussing, I'll use a couple from Disney films.

First up, we have Jafar from Aladdin:

You all know he was a greedy magician who was after one thing: power.

But let's break him down, shall we?

First off, he couldn't be very bright. Things couldn't always work out exactly as he had them planned in his head. There had to be snafus to overcome and hurdles to jump along the way to ultimate power. Why? Because we had to be able to hold on to hope that he could eventually be defeated. If everything he tried worked perfectly, Aladdin would've had no shot and we would've lost interest in the story, being able to predict the outcome way before the tale got us there.

Second, he had to have a weakness that wasn't endearing. Jafar's weakness was in his greed. His fervent desire for the three wishes the genie of the lamp could provide. He believed, with every fiber of his being, those wishes would give him what he wanted: power. But never could this power be simply the ability to make a bouquet of flowers appear. No, it had to be the strongest, best, most all encompassing power in the world. Greed is not endearing.

Third, he had to be blind to everything but what he desired. Not once did Jafar consider the ramifications of having the same power of the genie who granted the wish. Once it was brought to Jafar's attention that the genie could take that power away (by our clever - keep that in mind - protagonist), there was no doubt what would happen next. We knew Jafar would go for the ultimate, never seeing or stopping to think about the consequences.

There was nothing to love about Jafar. He was mean, nasty, and greedy. No way could he have been mistaken as a good guy.

Second, let's look at Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty:

As I'm sure you're all aware, she was a vain fairy who was bent on revenge for what she perceived to be a slight against her by Aurora's parents.

Like we did before, let's break her down:

First, she had to believe herself wiser and more powerful than any other fairy. Because of this, she neglected to take the time to be sure Aurora had been blessed by everyone else at the birthday celebration. Like Jafar, Maleficent was eager and a bit blinded by her need for revenge. But, without that fatal error, we would've had no hope. Again, our villain had to have things that went wrong during the course of their plan(s). There needed to be a seed of hope.

Second, her weakness wasn't endearing. Vanity is something many of us hold as a sin (like greed - seeing a trend?). No matter how you twisted it, her high opinion of herself and the belief no one was smarter or more powerful couldn't make her likeable. She had no remorse, and no empathy. Humans don't generally like those who can make plans to kill someone who's still in infancy. We had to see how evil she was in her core from the very beginning.

Third, her fatal flaw was her thirst for revenge. Also not endearing. With every fiber of her being, she wanted to see that princess destroyed because of hurt feelings. Maleficent felt she was the most powerful fairy, therefore should be shown the highest regard. Because she was slighted, she never considered there may be something more powerful (true love) and gave her life in her attempt to strike out at those who neglected to recognize her authority.

Like Jafar, no matter which way you twisted it, Maleficent was a villain; never to be accepted into the realm of heroes or good guys.

You have to be careful when writing a villain. Even the slightest hint of goodness inside them will cause your readers to latch on and feel sorry for the baddy. Why? Well, it all goes back to human nature. We naturally look for the good in people, whether we mean to or not. If there's one redeeming quality, we tend to point it out and say, "Ah ha! I knew there must've been something." It's because of our desire to make sense out of things. Because we couldn't behave in such a manner, we search out a reason for the behavior to be present.

Even the best laid plans can go awry. Look at The Bird. I never intended for what happened in that story to occur. I won't go further than that, you'll have to read the book to find out what I'm talking about. But the twist took me by surprise. Be very careful when letting your readers know your villain's past. It's better for them to be shallow than endearing. Consider keeping some details to yourself.

What villain have you written or read about that turned out differently than you thought? Why do you think that is?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!



  1. Great post, Jo. I'm one of those authors that will fall into the trap of making my readers pity my villains. They might not see it in book one, maybe not even in book two, but slowly over the series some information will come to light that should (if all goes well) make the reader question who is truly the bad guy by the last book.

    My problem is the 'why'. Why did Jafar want so much power? What made him go from an innocent little boy to a man hungry to subject others? And the same for Maleficent. What happened that changed her from a sweet little girl to a woman so vain?

    I think for me, I personally want to believe that everyone starts out good. I really want to believe that something horrible happened in a villain's life that made them snap. It's not an excuse for them. Cold-blooded murder is wrong, no matter what happened to them, and we should not think: 'Poor evil guy, let's give him a happy ending no matter how many people he killed'. That said, I'd like to think they were once good. It's my optimistic side battling the knowledge that there are those who are just born with something loose upstairs.

    Honestly, the human mind scares me more than demons, ghosts, zombies, or aliens. Even cockroaches, which I have a dreadful fear of.

    1. Thanks, L. K.! I accidentally did it myself so I know how easy it is. Like any kind of backstory telling how that villain turned bad can't be told.

      You aren't alone in your desire to believe everyone starts out good. I think women struggle with this more than men. If you've ever heard a woman say, "I think with the right amount of love and patience, he could be a good guy." you've witnessed what I'm talking about. I think it's part of nature, hardwiring us to the benefit of the species. If we have no empathy, what would we do with our kids when they're hurt/bad/upset? I'm not saying men don't have it, just that it isn't as strong in most of them. :)

      The Human condition petrifies me. I wrote a whole series on it here on the blog. LOL!

      COCKROACHES!?!? Great, now I won't sleep tonight. I have a paralyzing fear of roaches of any kind. :P

      Thanks for the comment. It's awesome! Hugs!


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