Saturday, September 29, 2012

Serenading the Wicked Heart

I've been marathoning Once Upon A Time, thinking I was happily slacking off and taking a break from my writing responsibilities. But while my conscious mind thought it was slacking, my creative mind was buzzing. This marathon birthed a massive brainstorming session that keeps going. (proof that writers never stop being writers, no matter what non-writing hobbies they're enjoying) I rained pages of my villain's backstory all over my notebook once I got alone with my thoughts. And that's what prompted this post today.

Say cheese, Scorpi!
Good villains require a lot of development so they don't become flat, cliche stereotypes. Villains, like ogres, should have layers. There are different types of villains, but my favorite are sympathetic villains. These characters might be just a decision or two away from being a hero, and we might be a decision or two away from being them. To me, that's fascinating.

One of my favorite sympathetic villains is Scorpius from the Sci-Fi channel series Farscape. He seeks the same goal as the hero John Crichton, but his methods for getting it are decidedly more evil and underhanded than John's. Scorpius has physical weaknesses that hinder him, but he's used his intellect to overcome them as best he can. This flaw has created a lot of Scorpi's determination and taught him internal strength, building a villain I would side with if it wasn't for the golden-hearted (and handsome) boy-next-door John Crichton.
courtesy LaDracul from DA

On the fringes of villainy, you'll find another character I absolutely love. The Trickster character. He's slippery, seductive, and you never know what side he's on. Rumpelstiltskin from Once Upon A Time is both a villain and a trickster. His fingers are in everything and he's constantly three steps ahead of the other characters. He has a sympathetic backstory as well as circumstances in which he might be either truly evil or unusually kind.

After reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, I was charmed by the Marquis De Carabas. The long coat, the hat, the flashy smile, seemed more at home in a Louisiana gin joint than the Underground of London, but he fit perfectly. Gaiman played on all the traditional trickster qualities and produced a character who walks that fine line between reader trust and distrust. You're compelled to read on and find out more about him.

I think what we love most about villains and tricksters is that they do and say the things heroes never could. They cross lines, break hearts, and pull rugs out from under everyone else. They're shifty, sneaky and clever in ways we wish we could be. They don't have to play fair, but they're seldom very happy for long. So they become tragic figures we secretly wish would come out on top. And in some stories, they do.

Writing villains requires inspiration, motivation, and a deep appreciation for the slipperier critters of the literary world. And musical accompaniment. Here's one that reminds me of the Marquis.

What songs get you motivated to write a villain?


  1. I absolutely love characters like the Marquis de Carabas. Probably my favorite kind of character is the quirky one whom you never know whether or not you can trust.

  2. always loved Marquis de Carabas! i also happen to like villains that look good - the tall hat, long coat and boats and flashy smile ;)


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