The Fake
The Fake

Claire is secretly finishing paintings for her famous artist father. Grayson is caught up in a life of petty crime and Claire's dad is his next target.

Writing a good bad guy

Mar 24, 2015 · 38 Comments

Hi guys! Sorry it's been a while between journal entries! If you have any ideas about topics you'd like me to cover here (can be anything really, things you'd like to know about THE FAKE, its characters, etc, or Wrong Side of the River, writing techniques, etc.), let me know in the comments! Also, check out the Storybird blog this week, Nat and I are chatting on there for a couple of days about Critiques vs Criticism and we were all full of advice (you'll have to tell me if you think it's good advice though!)

I'm working on a new story at the moment, and I'm at the part where I figure out my characters and what they're like, and that got me thinking about who would be the villain in my story--otherwise known as the antagonist.

Every story needs a villain or else there's nothing for our main character, the hero, to lose. Villains can be a lot of different things, and not always human, even in a story set in the real world with no magic. The villain could be a disease, or an animal, or a really big problem, or even an actual person. The villain/antagonist is whatever thing is getting in the way of your hero getting what s/he wants. There can even be more than one.

When I started writing seriously, I did some research about villains and came across one of my favorite pieces of writing advice ever. "The antagonist is the hero of his own story."

That sounds preeeeetty vague, so I'll explain what it means.

A really good bad guy is a fully formed character in her or his own right. Their reasons for doing the things they do should be just as real to them as our hero's reasons. The best bad guys are the ones who are so sure they're doing the right thing that if you were to try and tell the story from the bad guy's perspective instead of the good guy's, it would still be a good story.

Let's take one of our bad guy's from THE FAKE: Mr. Bannister (Grayson's dad).

Mr. Bannister is rich, clever, and has a very big ego. From his point of view, he wants his family to be taken care of, and to do well. I think, he'd really like to see Grayson be worthy to follow in his footsteps one day. Trouble is, family are different than businesses, and he isn't as good at being a dad.

So, if I were to write a story about him, it would be about a father who is successful in every area of his life, except his family. I think it would be a pretty good story too. Even though he is one of the bad guys in Grayson's story, he could easily be a great hero in his own.

Mr. Gallo is a different sort of bad guy--he's up to no good and so far, we don't know why he would do those things (but I do, and that will hopefully make him a better character).

The disease ruining Claire's dad's career is another bad guy.

And here's an interesting one that you might not have thought of--Grayson. In his story, his chapters, he's the hero and the one we're interested in. But he's stolen money, and taken pictures of George Foster's paintings. If I were to write a story with Claire's dad as the hero, Grayson would be one of the biggest villains, even if George Foster didn't realize that.

Even Claire is a bad guy, if you wrote the story from the perspective of the people who will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for her dad's paintings.

So my best advice about villains is: Make them a fully-fledged person with motivations real enough that you could write a story about them. Sometimes, you might even find the villain's story is more interesting than the one you started out writing!

There are types of villain where this doesn't work so well. For instance, if your villain is a forest in the middle of nowhere in a freezing winter and your hero is trying to survive in it, it's not really even trying to kill the hero--it's just a forest being a forest. You can still make that forest seem real to your readers, though, and fill it with other villains (cougars, steep cliffs, rivers too dangerous to cross). The more real your bad guy is, the more scary they are, and the more your readers will worry about your hero and want to keep reading.

Check it out next time you're watching your favorite TV show or reading a good book. Who/what is the bad guy? Why do you think the bad guy is doing the things s/he is doing? What would their story be like if they were to be the star?

Who's your favorite bad guy? Let me know in the comments!

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