The first thing I look for in a good story are characters that I care about. It doesn’t have to be a good guy, it can be the villain, so long as they are realistic to me. They can’t be superman with no flaws or weaknesses — after all, even Superman has his Kryptonite he has to contend with. It has to be someone who has a reason for what he or she does. And just to make it easy to type, I’m going to use the term ‘he’ to refer to my villain in this piece, even though it can be of either gender and even inanimate or animal.
He must have a reason that makes sense to him for what he does. He must have a sense of purpose, even if it is to cause someone else misery. He must be interesting, and I have to be able to relate to him, even if I don’t agree with him or like him. I expect him to win some of the fights, even most of them, but I also expect and want him to lose the final confrontation.
But most important, to me at least, I have to understand him. That means I have to understand what drives him. In order to do that, I have to spend the time to develop a backstory for him. That may be his childhood, via some abuse or conflict, or maybe some emotional loss that he blames others for, that left him marked in some deep way and altered his perception of the world and those in it. To create a believable, and in some ways sympathetic villain, I had to spend a lot of time thinking about his backstory. That meant I had to think about his life from birth to when we meet him in the story, and I had to think about what events might have shaped him and his thinking to the point we meet him in the story. Once I have his story and his motivations, then it becomes possible to determine how he will react to a given situation that either advances or hinders his goals.
I believe the villain is the centerpiece of the story, and that the hero can only be as good as the villain is bad. The villain provides the incentive and opportunity for the hero to become the hero, I would say to any writer, make your villain interesting and the rest will follow.
Next time… I will share my thoughts on the hero. Till later…