Today’s post is appropriate, I think, coming from a fantasy author. Sci-fi authors and some writers of historical fiction could also relate to a post about crafting villains, but really, we all write characters we don’t like, no matter what our genre.
That’s the role of the antagonist, after all. He’s there to oppose the hero, whom we generally are supposed to like. Ergo, we DON’T like the “villains.” At least, not usually.
And yet, we authors see ourselves reflected in our villains. At least, I see myself in the villains I’ve written. And that’s the topic of this post.
For me, this usually comes out of nowhere. I realize it during a read-through, some point after I’ve written a first draft. I don’t intentionally inject myself into my villains, (or at least, not intentionally to the extent that they end up reflecting me.) There are so many ways our villains can reflect who we are.
- We use a good quality about ourselves to humanize the villain, or we give the villain a sympathetic struggle that we can relate to.
- Maybe the villain shares one or two of our major strengths, but uses them in very different ways, for different goals than we would have. This is very common!
- The flaws we know we have–tendencies to selfishness, or anger, to self pity–are present in our villain. They may be blown up to a different size than they exist in us, but they’re there. And we KNOW they come from us.
- The things we most fear, we throw into our villains. That makes them formidable foes in our minds, a force to be reckoned with.
- Maybe a vice in someone else, a vice whose bite we’ve felt personally, makes an appearance. In this case, it’s not our flaws the villain reflects, but our suffering.
It’s really crazy to reflect on this…. Think of the character you’ve written that you most dislike. The one you really, really hate. I bet that, to some extent, the reason is that the character embodies a part of you that you’d rather not admit to.
It’s crazy how this happens. Even the ONE villain I’ve written who has pretty much zero redeemable qualities, who is pretty much a psychopath, reflects me to some extent.
I’ve realized this as I edit “The King’s Sons” for its second edition. (Still hoping to get those new versions of the Herezoth Trilogy out this summer!) Evant Linstrom may be pitiless and awful, but the reason he’s doing what he’s doing? He’s got a legitimate grudge against the establishment, and he’s let it gnaw at his heart. He utterly gave in to the demon of self-pity and self-indulgence. And self-pity is something I struggle with. It’s one of the biggest things I know I hate about myself.
Now, I didn’t give Linstrom that legitimate grudge and streak of self-pity turned to a thirst for vengeance because I indulge a bit too much in self-pity. I did it because I wanted to round out the GOOD guys. I didn’t want my good guys being unrealistically perfect, unrealistically innocent. So I found a way to insert a legitimate slight against Linstrom in the past, and…. there you go.
Our brains are sneaky like this. This is why writing works as therapy sometimes! We don’t realize we’re doing it, but writing fiction truly is therapy. ALL our characters are bits of us, and through them we work out personal issues. I really think that, subconsciously, a large part of creating Linstrom and his saga was to give myself a concrete image of the dangers of a vice I know I have, to help me resist falling into that trap.