No one really starts out evil. Well, I suppose if you are writing a story about a demon invasion, then perhaps your story is the exception. But for most of the villains that you will write into your stories, when you think of them, you will realize that they didn’t start out evil. Something has to happen in their little fictional lives to make them so.
Now depending on how you write your story, the event that turned them evil could have taken place long ago. You might think it irrelevant to your story. However, even if the true story isn’t told in your novel, it is worth taking a little time to figure out what happened to turn your villian into a villain.
In fact, it can be quite useful.
Knowing how the evil began will help you figure out how your villain reacts to the events in your story, making their actions more believable. it will help you to add little details that make your story come to life and it can provide a key to the eventual defeat of the villain by your intrepid hero, should you decide that your hero needs to triumph.
Let’s take the classic princess snatching evil sorcerer living in a tower in the middle of nowhere. We will call him Felonious just to make sure everyone in the story knows he is evil.
So in this story Felonious captures Princess Harmony and whisks her off to his tower. Her Father King Featherweight proclaims that whoever rescues her will win her hand in marriage and our hero Biff decides he wants to be king, or maybe always had a crush on the princess and charges off into the wild to go save her.
While it sounds like a pretty simple questing tale, allowing Biff to fight through all sorts of obstacles and dangerous situations, proving to the reader that he deserves to be victorious, there are a few questions you need to ask before you get into Biff and his quest.
There is the standard, who is Biff and why does he want to save her you’ll have to work out. There is also the possibility that Biff won’t be the only want to be king who charges off to take on the quest.
All of which can be fun to work out, however we are going to concentrate on the villan. So we have established that Felonious lives alone in a tower in the middle of nowhere and has kidnapped Princess Harmony.
First of all no one is really born alone. Something may happen after the first breath, but initially someone is there. So how did he end up at the tower all alone? And did someone actually give him the name Felonious expecting him to grow up to be evil or did he take it as a nom de plume when he decided his course would in fact be evil?
Why is there a tower in the middle of nowhere? Usually towers aren’t built in isolation unless they are built for very specific reasons. Was it part of a castle complex that fell apart leaving only the tower in tact? Was it specifically built as a prison for him?
And why has he decided to kidnap the princess? Has he been working through various kingdoms kidnapping their princesse in turn in his random course of evil or did he choose this particular kingdom or princess? And why is he kidnapping her now? And why would he kidnap princess in the first place? Does he hope to ransom them or does he need a supply of royal blood for some sort of evil magic?
I know, some of you want desperately to just get on with the quest and see Biff slay some dragons. I get that. I know I tend to favor the villains. But taking a moment to answer some of these questions can affect Biff’s quest.
So let’s figure out Felonious, shall we?
Felonious was actually born Reginald and was the son of King Justin of the Kingdom of Dololly. The nearby Kingdom of Expandicous invaded and destroyed most of the palace leaving only the east tower behind. His mother Queen Belle hid him in the tower and told him to hide his name so the invaders wouldn’t kill him. She then died of her wounds leaving him alone.
He scavenged books and learned magic pretending to be a sorcerer from far away who just wanted a tower to live in. He built a reputation for evil so people would leave him alone. The Kingdom of Expandicous took in all the land of Dololly in it’s attempt to become an Empire. The old king died leaving his son Featherweight to take the crown. Featherweight’s only daughter is Harmony. While Felonious has a live and let live policy, recently King Featherweight announced a tournament to find a husband for Harmony. while he thinks about interrupting the tournament, Felonious learns that the tournament is merely an excuse to invade other surrounding kingdoms the same way they did Dololly.
The marriage as an excuse for merging kingdoms under Featherweight’s rule. This is the incident that sets him off. He decides if there is no princess there then there can be no tournament. He was angry enough that he didn’t really stop to think it through and just kidnapped the princess. ince kidnapping her, his temper has cooled and he is beginning to think he might have made a mistake. He just isn’t sure how to fix it.
There that wasn’t too painful was it? In a few minutes we learned who Felonious is, what motivates him and a few relevant details. We know that he sometimes acts without thinking when his temper gets the better of him and we know why Princess Harmony was a target.
At some point we will have to figure out some things about Princess Harmony and exactly what she has done to make Felonious regret kidnapping her, but that is a different discussion.
In this tale, Felonious isn’t truly evil. He is in a bad spot and acted badly, but he isn’t evil. Or maybe he is. How that plays out will depend on how you write him. For this example, we;ll make him angry and vengeful but not truly evil. So when the questers come for Harmony, he might not kill them. He will arrange obstacles that prevent them from rescuing the princess, but they might not actually die. They might just go home in defeat with bruises and wounded pride. You can choose to add an element of responsibility to Felonious. He may still feel that even if he can’t win back his kingdom he wants the next king to be someone who cares for his people. Or he could just enjoy torturing all those knights he thinks have it so easy with their intact homes and stable lives.
How you write your villain will determine the course of the quest. His character shapes their obstacles and may determine who you decide wins the quest. Maybe Biff is the shining example of herodome and wins past all the trails winning the hand of Harmony. Maybe the princess escapes on her own. Maybe she falls in love with Felonious. Maybe after Biff rescues her King Featherweight reneges on his promise and goes ahead with the expansion through marriage plan. with the basic outline as we have it, you can really play with who ends up being the villain in the end.
While this is a fantasy style tale, the same applies to every story. Why does your real estate mogul want to foreclose on the orphanage? Why does the socialite poison the chef? Why is that politician hiding things in the safety deposit box?
Whatever your tale and whoever your villain, no matter how incidental you feel their back story is to your tale, taking a few minutes to think about their past will provide you with an insight into how they think and make their behavior, no matter how outlandish it becomes, seem more plausible to your reader.
So even if you are eager to get started with that dragon slaying quest, pull up a chair and sit down with your villain and find out who they really are and what makes them tick.