Let’s talk bad guys. Antagonists. Big evil villains who are going to do something Very Bad if they’re not stopped. I’ve met dozens of them since the year started, and it never fails to amaze me how crazy, sick and scary writers are. (What else can you expect when one of our most popular sayings is Kill your darlings.). It’s absolutely fantastic!
But I’ve also met some antagonists who just seem like…antagonists.. They are the opposing force to heroes, and that’s all they are. Roles to fill.
Sometimes, it’s easy to spot these characters. Their dialogue sounds familiar if not dangerously close to cliche. They spout off tragic childhood stories that started their dark ways. They committed an inherently horrendous act like murder, rape, genocide, some utter destruction.
The few markers I pointed out don’t make characters immediately evil or terrifying. Instead, they can make the bad guys seem evil for evil’s sake. One remedy is, of course, to show. Show us how it affects the heroes and why.
But here’s something you may want to try too if you’re struggling with developing your villain’s depth: Say and do the things you’re scared to and scared of.
Honesty is key here because, while you’re searching for answers why you would say or do the horrible things you would never do in real life, you’re flipping through real reasons why someone–like your villain–would.
Actions by themselves don’t make a villain evil. It’s their humanity.
To be charmed by, to understand, to believe, to admire, or like one element in the villain’s character–or to understand why one person or a whole country is charmed by, understands, believes, admires or likes that villain–is terrifying. And hateful.
There’s something both recognizable and unfamiliar in evil characters. They show us that humanity can be twisted. How terrifying is that?