Last week I mentioned one of my favorite villians, Heinz Doofenshmirtz. He claims to pure evil, but if you follow the show, that’s not really the case. His parents forced him to be a lawn gnome for much of his childhood and favored his older brother, Roger. He wants recognition and revenge. But he also loves his daughter and has fits of conscience, albeit warped. Personally, I think this makes for a more interesting bad guy than the pure evil one.
Some bad guys want to see the world burn. Some are downright selfish. But my favorite stories usually have a bad guy that’s more sympathetic. For example, the Prince Charming of Shrek 3. Yes, he’s selfish. Yes, he’s arrogant. But in Shrek 3, there’s more to him than that. He’s trying to avenge his mother and succeed where she failed. He’s tired of the good guys being the only one’s who get a happily-ever-after. And he uses that sob story to get all the other bad guys onto his side.
Usually when we create our protagonists, we’re told to ask the question “why”. What are their core values? What motivates them? What are their goals? Why do they feel the way they do about these things? Once I’ve answered those questions, I can write a compelling story by putting road blocks to those goals.
But we can’t forget to do the same with our bad guys. When I was writing the second draft of Soul Yearning, I came across a section where the scenes with a bad guy came off flat. Something was missing.
When I did the rewrite, I decided to do those scenes from the viewpoint of the bad guy instead of the good guy in order to flesh out why he’s so bad. The positive response was unanimous from my crit partners. The character drew them in and made them want to read more. I ended up doing a bunch of rewrites of scenes with my bad guys, and now I’m much happier with the conflict in my story.
Whenever I think of villains, I’m reminded of the ending of Shrek 3 where Arthur asks them if they always wanted to be bad. One of them replies, “But we are villains!” That works for some. But in my humble opinion, the best stories occur when the bad guy wants their happily-ever-after just as much as the good guy.
So, what about you? Do you prefer Dark Lords? Or do you like your villains to have more sympathetic values?