Knowing Your Villain and His Plans13:26
Not long ago I read a blog post that suggested that it is better to have a shallow villain than one that readers can connect with. Something about that struck me as being totally wrong. To me, the villain is the most important character in a book. If this is true, then should you know as much about your villain as you do about your main character? Isn’t it better to know why your villain is carrying out his evil plan rather than just have him do it for the sake of the plot?
The villain is the most important character for one very simple reason; without the villain, there is no story. Without someone causing a problem, there is nothing for the main character to fight against, no reason to leave their ordinary lives. And with nothing for the hero to fight against, there is no story. Who wants to read a story about life with no problems? The villain is so important to the plot that without him, there would be no book.
Knowing about the villain is very important to me in editing. If I don’t know much about my villain, his past and his plans, then the plot doesn’t work. I’m working on editing one of my fantasy novels at the moment, and for a long time I was stuck on how to fix it, because I realised that I didn’t know anything about my villain. It didn’t make sense to have him doing things just because he’s evil. What I found I needed to know was, what does he get out of this plot that makes him want to do it in the first place, and why does he think this is a good idea? I’ve found from my experience that when I know more about my villain, then not only do I have a more rounded character who feels like a person, but a whole host of other plot problems fix themselves round that one issue. In fantasy, which is what I write mostly, the plot generally hinges on stopping the evil plan of the villain. By working out what the villain is planning, I can understand what the other characters would be doing, which helps me makes sense of events.
I don’t believe that villains should be shallow, because they are such important people in books. Some villains have tough backgrounds. Some of them have lost loved ones and have turned to evil to get revenge or justice. Some have had their hopes and dreams crushed. These are all parts of what makes this villain a person, and are part of what has lead up to the problems of the book. If the villain is so important to the story, he deserves to be as much of a character as anyone else in the book. Of course, you generally want people to like your main character over your villain, but the villain needs to be understood too.
Problems with the villain are one of the most important things I fix in the first round of edits, and fixing that makes it much easier to fix most of the other plot problems as well. If you’re having trouble making your plot work, why not take a look at the villain and see how well developed he and his plot are? It’s easy to forget to flesh him out as much as the main character because he’s not the point of view character, but he can not only be a good character, but is integral to the success of the story. And someone that important deserves to be noticed every once in a while.
Do you think that villains need to be as fleshed out as the other characters, or do you think it’s ok for them to be shallow? Do you agree that they’re the most important person in a book? Who’s your favourite villain?