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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Being Good is sooo Overrated

I’ve been a gamer girl since before the concept of a gamer girl ever even existed. I’ve been playing video games since I was four years old and we played on the old Atari console. Pit Fall was always my favorite game. Years ago I started playing online and you had to develop an online persona.

Well my father used to tell me I could be the devil’s daughter because I was very mischievous. I would manipulate the situation and usually it was my brother who got in trouble lol. Poor guy. Of course, he has since forgiven me but I’ve always had this naughty side to my personality so that’s who I became. And let me tell you I have had the most fun being bad. Being the bad girl has its advantages lol.

Looking back on some of your favorite books, what do you remember the most? That beautiful setting, those flowing lines of prose, that quick dialogue? Chances are, it’s the characters who made the story work or not work, whichever the case. If you write flat characters, your writing will fall flat.

And all too often we focus so much on our hero and heroines that we forget to develop our villain. Bad guys need love too! We often do detailed character sheets, questionnaires and timelines for our H/h and once we get to our villain we’re clueless about what makes him/her tick.

And I have the most fun writing my villains. I simply love to create complex, emotionally scarred villains, because there’s a little bad guy in all of us whether we want to admit it or not. We all have these emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness and jealousy. But we as normal people have learned to cope and deal with these emotions in a healthy way.

Villains need goals, motivations, and backstory’s just like our hero’s. When writing the not—so—good—guys and the not—so—bad—villains, there are a few things to remember. Not everyone is completely good or completely bad. There’s always a mix of emotions, good and bad memories that make us who we are. So make sure to give your hero a flaw and (many writers forget this) give your villain a virtue.

Making him all bad is too clichéd, give him a reason to be so bad, and the biggest key to writing bad guys is empathy. Not sympathy, empathy. Make the reader empathize with him.

The definition for sympathy is: harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.

The definition of empathy is: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

You don’t have to agree with your characters in order to understand why they are who they are. The key word there is understand. You’re not giving them permission to be bad when you understand where they come from. When you can separate these two functions in your writing and building your characters then you will start to see more defined and well—rounded characters form.

When you think about it the Hero and villain are really the two sides of the same coin. When you turn the tables and view the story from the opposite side you’ll find that more often than not, everyone’s a villain and everyone’s a hero.

So what about you? Can you see a reflection of your hero in your villain and can you empathize with him? If so? Then you’ve written a well—rounded, three dimensional character.

Miss Adventure


  1. Melissa, this blog post made me think of a book I've just started reading on craft. It's all about creating the bad guys - and the bad boy good guys. LOL. It's called Bullies, Bastards, & Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell. I think you'd love it.

    I haven't written a lot of actual villains in my stories. Usually, there is something more internal that keeps my hero and heroine apart. But in one of the WIPs I'm working on, there is a definite villain, so I'm trying to make him more believable. And like you said, that means I have to figure out what is making him tick. It's been an interesting process.

  2. I will definitely check out the book lol just because the title is so kickin! LOL. It's so easy to forget to plot out the bad guy until we get to a scene where we need to be in his pov and then we freeze and think...oh no. I don't know why he's doing this.

    It's fun though because with a villain you have little standards and you can pretty much do anything you want with him/her. IMO female villains are the most fun. I'm always reminded of Sharon Stone in Catwoman opposite of Halle Berry. The movie was a flop but I'll bet Sharon Stone had a blast playing that part. lol.

  3. I completely agree that the best bad guys have things in their lives that make the reader understand them. I think the story is even better when they have the option to do what's right and still choose to be bad.

  4. Great blog, Melissa. Too often you see flat villains, a sin I admit I was guilty of before (I admit my first villain was named Captain Plunder ... yeah, seriously). But as soon as you start to give them character, you find rich, interesting characters, and in fact, the journey towards redemption becomes an interesting nugget that leads a lot of my "villains" in some books to be heroes in others. And yes, being the villain or writing in that POV can sometimes be so much fun! :)

  5. Samatha! You always make excellent points! Yes, I think that is what essentially makes them the bad guy is some kind of need to continue to make the wrong choices. It's really what makes them fascinating characters imho.

    And Shelly... captain plunder? LOL too cute. Yes, my first villian was somewhere along those lines too. I find it interesting when a villain in one book turns out to be the hero in another, it leaves us with the thought that there is always hope. =)

    Thanks for stopping by ladies!

  6. I love writing villians. Sometimes I enjoy writing them more than I do the hero.

    Great post.

  7. Greatly blog, Melissa. I actually took a workshop all about writing villians with empathy. The presenters basically said the same thing you did that you must make something about the villian understandable or empathetic.

  8. I love writing the villian, always have. I get to have them behave in ways we are never allowed to. Not that I would ever committ murder, but their dialogue can be fun because there is no filter to it. Villians are often my favorite character in a book, which may be why my dream role on stage (if I ever had the guts to audition) would be the Wicked Witch of the West.