An article by Hayley Faye
Burning, choking, that’s how you kill a man. Shooting, electrocuting, that’s how you kill a woman. But the acts themselves are simple and often irrelevant; what instead goes on through the mind of a madman as they take away both life and future from someone else? Is it hatred, cowardice, sadism? Maybe all, sometimes none or perhaps it is something else?
There are many characters we would call villains though the best are as unique as you are. While a slasher may be a mindless husk lead on by a curse without a rhyme or reason of their own, a mad scientist might have ambitions that are simply too great for others to bare or endure. In order to write a memorable and convincing villain you have to make their mindset as vicious and convincing as their casual acts of violent glory. A mutilated body and a screaming victim will never be as chilling of a sight as the eyes of the killer who has gone too far from the realm of what we would call our virtues and values. Though not as far as you may think.
Wickedness Of The One
A villain can take on many roles. They could either be nothing more than an obstacle for the hero to “solve” or they can be the driving force in your narrative that makes the plot tremble to their will. Creating a monster is a complicated thing that, contrary to popular belief, requires no blood magic or wicked artifacts of evil.
You have to ask yourself, what makes them do what they do? What goes on through their mind, how do they react to the plight of their victims? It has to be real and convincing, making them evil for evil’s sake is too easy and too thin to carry a story convincingly. Instead, if you wish to understand the darkness of a psychopathic monster’s mind, you have to understand the light and virtue of the world around them first.
What guides you as a person, what do you believe in? Do you have flaws? Of course; we all do. What are your flaws, what are your problems? Why do you do the things you do, what makes you act the way you do? Use your own experience to color in your understanding of the mindset of evil. Have you ever lied? Why did you do it? To get out of trouble, to get an advantage or enact revenge perhaps? You have done bad things, we all have. Use those excuses. Expand and dramatize but keep the core pure and clear.
Why did you wish to escape responsibility for your actions? Because you felt you didn’t really deserve to be punished? Because it wasn’t a big deal despite what others may have said? Because you deserve better than others? Have you ever stolen? Something small, something big? Perhaps you shoplifted an item; what’s one more thing to have that wasn’t very valuable anyway? Perhaps you’ve downloaded materials illegally from the internet? Why not, it’s a victimless crime after all. Who does it hurt, some faceless corporation that would do the same to you? Or worse? It’s a dog eat dog world and they’re the ones who set the rules. Who cares how a faceless monolith of emptiness feels. It’s your gain, their loss.
Take your hopes and dreams and twist them around on themselves. What’s the worst you could do at any moment, what were all the bad choices you tried to avoid? Imagine yourself as you are. Not a horned demon or a ghastly wraith. But a person who maybe cares a little bit less than you do, maybe a person who takes a little bit more than they should. Take these little core ideas and motivations then turn them into a monument to your villain’s depravity. Excuses, perspectives. We all have them and there’s a reason why we do. Use those reasons.
Evil Isn’t Perfect
Characters have flaws and villains do too, naturally. What stops their ambitions, what ruins their great plan at the end of the day? It can’t solely be the willpower of the hero, the power of the light. Defeat must come from within, what turns your villains back into normal, flawed everyday beings?
Using two characters from my upcoming novel, Redlight: Redemption, as examples; Kallianira and Valorie are two people who intimately know and understand one another. They’re both cruel and unkind to others. They both have little pity or remorse for the pain or plight they cause. But despite these similarities, they are a stark contrast to each other in terms of their mindset and actions.
Kallianira is brash, wild and even at times, optimistically carefree. She relishes in the pleasure of sadism, the fun in death. A very twisted individual who’s only in it for herself and her wicked amusements. Though despite her reckless disregard for other beings, she can be quite frail when it comes to defending herself. She hurts for fun, she has no greater goal in mind. So how does one like that react when the heat gets turned on them instead?
She mocks, she degrades, she finds other people’s suffering entertaining. A comedian at heart, one who will joke about any subject no matter how cruel or insensitive. The evil colours the fact that she’s still nothing more than a human. What is a comedian’s weakness? They’re frail, they are prone to depression and they use their jokes to both amuse and keep others at bay. If one breaks through their outer wall, the insides are much too soft to pose any real threat or defence. A hero might not go for the throat so to speak, but a villain would.
How do villains interact with one another, the world is more than just a band of plucky heroes and a mustached thug with a cape and devious streak. How can a comedian defend themselves against eyes that cut through their illusion or fists that have no sense of humor? They can’t and so they’re brought down to suffer, like everybody else. Just like their victims, they’re the prey now. How does that work out for your character and their mindset?
On the other hand, Valorie is a determined and objective-minded person who knows what she wants and cares little for the people she’ll crush and trample on the path to get it. She’s ruthless and vain, she has accomplished much in her quest for power and control. And she’s good at it, she truly is. What is gained when a person is honestly impressive and has acquired true dominion over the lives of others? Pride, arrogance and above all, excuses for their actions.
Why shouldn’t the strong take over the weak? It’s not just about wickedness but about reality as well. The weak are weak, they have their own flaws. An orphan might be the stereotypical depiction of virtue and innocence but what could they really accomplish at the end of the day? Statistically, most likely nothing. They might be good, sweet and look good on a poster with a happy message for morally vain people but they are still weak nonetheless. They would lose, they would fail. And to whom? To the strong? So why shouldn’t the strong make their own will be felt, their own thoughts are heard? It is inevitable that one of them will succeed so why not your villain?
Evil is evil but evil is work. To win you must be good, to be good you must be strong, effective and intelligent. Real traits with the actual value and not a candy-coated treat of fake niceties. When you accomplish, when you grow; why shouldn’t you keep what you earned? It is yours, it truly is. No one else could’ve done it and everyone else has no other purpose besides following you around and trying to steal what is yours. Either through a smokescreen of “morality” or through their own evil, enemies are nothing but thieves.
“Bring balance to the world.”
Balance means what, good wins without question? Without equal? How is that fair? When you work while they preach? True peace is impossible, there must always be shadows under the light. Those shadows are yours, better you than the other monsters out there, right? They’re worse, aren’t they? Why wouldn’t they be? Those shadows are yours, you earned them. Real work, real sacrifice, real victory. Why should thieves have it? They can’t keep them or destroy them, they are weak and there must be shadows. And they’re yours. On the other hand, hubris is an even more wicked and traitorous beast than you could ever hope to be. A challenge you will conquer… until the day you don’t. You only need to mess up once after all.
Wickedness Of The Many
How do villains run their minions or their armies and pet dragons? It can’t be through fear alone, there are too many who that tactic would not work on. Brave heroes, backstabbing underlings and rival overlords. How do you keep a world under control? How do you keep anything under control? A plan, a structure. A reason, a lie built on truth. A bribe, a promise for something better. How does your villain fare when pit against others? Can they compete, can they hold their own in a violent debate? What happens when a rival is a little bit stronger or a little bit smarter? Do they submit, do they resist? Do they come to regret the wickedness of their own deeds as they come to experience them firsthand?
How do minions look at their leader? With loyalty? Through glory and dark honor, respect and admiration? Perhaps they identify with them and share a common dream or gripe. Their own land, their own future. Oftentimes bad people come from bad places, corrupt souls who have suffered greatly and now want to make things right with little regard for others. When you are hurt, when you are betrayed or robbed. How does it feel, do you wish for revenge? Pain and death on the ones who abused you? A human core, a human reaction that must then be expanded and twisted. Remember that all evil must have a reason, you must truly believe it if others are to appreciate it in your own writing. Even if it hurts, especially if it hurts. Evil is nothing more than a few bad choices you know you wanted to make and that you know you had more than enough reason to go through with.
Go Forth & Conquer
Find the blueprints of your person, your soul, your character. Make a twisted version of yourself, not a lizard or a devil, but a human. Evil is our mirror and a mirror is not the exact opposite. You have eyes, your reflection has eyes. A smile for a smile, a sense of style carried over almost exactly the same. The opposite of a fireplace isn’t water, it’s a raging flame. The opposite of drinking is drowning.
The mirror isn’t a skinless, eyeless monster; it is a reflection. It is you…
Just a little different.
Hayley Faye is a Mexican-American writer with a passion for games, comedy, horror and all things awesome. Originally from Mexico City, she came to the United States at a young age as her family seeked out a better life for themselves. A fan of everything from sitcoms to science fiction epics, she found comfort in all the magical places she could escape to. She especially admired all of the people behind these productions as she knew how much effort even the simplest of projects could take.
Now a professional writer and graphic designer, she keeps herself busy trying to create her own story-filled worlds as well as enjoying hobbies like painting miniatures, wargaming, fashion, sculpting and role-playing. And trolling friends. She hopes you have fun reading her wonderful sets of stories and will see you when her next big book comes out! Cookies are awesome.