Or, villains in other words! Last week my work in progress came to a grinding halt. After a few days of dazed staring at a blank screen I realized that I had no idea what my villain was up to. Not really. I had built in a small mystery but not enough.
This fueled a discussion with my writer friends about villains in general. We even got into it over whether a story needs a villain per se, as in a vile, despicable, irredeemably evil character, or merely an antagonist. An antagonist is a character in a story or play who opposes the hero–which also happens to be one of the definitions we found for villain. Whatever you call them and whatever the degree of absolute evil they may possess they are absolutely vital to moving the plot forward.
Like heroes, villains generally have scars or wounds that have never healed. They just make different choices about them. In addition a good villain has—or is possessed by—a central virtue that he or she has twisted in some fashion. For example the virtue could be justice, twisted into an obsession with revenge on an individual or class of individuals. It could be responsibility twisted into a need to control people. It could be thrift twisted into an obsession with money or greed. It could be patriotism twisted until they need to eliminate dangers only they perceive. You get the idea. If you know what those are, you can begin to predict how them might act in the world/situation you have created and what sort of trouble they might level at the protagonist.
My story came to a halt because I hadn’t examined my antagoist closely enough. I spent the weekend using the same charts and analysis I use for developing the hero and heroine to get to the bottom of one villain, and now I think I have two. The good news is the way forward is a bit clearer. Now to get to it, but first, coffee.