Saturday, July 25, 2009

What Creates a Good Villain in a Fantasy Work?

For any writer this is an important question to ask and also answer, for the antagonist(s) are vital elements to traditional stories and can help to develop not only the feel of the book, but the pace of plot development. A reader's attraction to the hero and also the protagonists' growth during the story are also elements influenced by a well thought out and engaging villain. Thus as so much can ride on this it's often a good idea to flesh out the antagonist in the story, find out why they have become what they are and allow the reader to experience it by gradually revealing it during the story, film or game.

When developing antagonists in your stories or games I have found it very useful to look beyond the traditional view of a villain which is so often alignment based, openly cruel or repressive or a member of a predefined race or organisation that's fan base already understands them to be, for lack of a better word, 'evil'. In other words a setting which uses a base level of constructed conflict to drive the events and actions of the characters. But what is there beyond this?

Two great areas to think about when developing villains is the psychologically motivated villain, and someone who is acting and performing contrary to the norm for the setting and it is this opposing behaviour which creates them as a villain in the eyes of the hero and reader.

In the first instance psychologically motivated individuals can pass amongst the normal populace unnoticed, striking either at opportunistic times or in a calculated manner. The beauty here is that these villains are hidden and can provide plot twists and surprises for readers.

The second option is also one I have become increasingly fond of, and have started to see utilised in other author's works, as the villain doesn't need to be a predefined alignment. The reason that this is appealing to me is that it takes away the whole good versus evil aspect which is so prevalent in our film, literature and history. This gives us a plotline and character engagements outside of this theme, allowing for the setting, storyline situations, events and character profiles to drive the story rather than an obvious linear progression based on a broader ethical stance.

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