How to write a villain
August 6th, 2016
One of the most common questions I get is, ‘Who’s your favourite character from your own books?’ It’s a hard question to answer. I love Goldie, Bonnie, Broo, Toadspit, Petrel, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink, Krill, Fin, Sharkey, Dolph and pretty much every else as well.
It’d be much easier if people asked, ‘Who’s your favourite character to write?’ ‘The Fugleman’, I’d reply. ‘Guardian Hope. Cord. Brother Poosk. Albie. And now, in Bodyguards, Lord Rump. And whoever is behind the Harshman.’
I love writing villains. When I’m writing a villain I can indulge all the parts of myself that otherwise never get to see the light of day. I can be selfish, arrogant, cruel and nasty. I don’t have to worry about hurting people’s feelings, or fairness, or kindness, or any of the other things that usually occupy my thoughts. If I want something, I can ride straight over the top of everyone else to get it.
When I’m being a villain, I have to remember not to think of myself as a villain. Instead, I tell myself that I’m just being sensible. Or that I’m working for the greater good and people will thank me in the end. Or that if I don’t do this, something much worse will happen. Or that I’m merely doing my job. Or that this is a dog-eat-dog world, and anyone who doesn’t realise that is a fool.
The glint in Lord Rump’s eyes was all too familiar. Duckling clenched her fists. ‘It’s an assassination, isn’t it. You said there’d be no more assassinations, Grandda. They’re too risky!’
‘But this one is not risky, my sweet, not for us. Because I am not the assassin. I am merely helping to set the Scheme in motion.’ He rubbed his fingertips together. ‘And being very well paid for it.’
We all tell ourselves stories about who we are and why we behave the way we do. And in our own heads, we usually put the best possible light on things. So no one is thinking, ‘I’m an evil person, and I’m doing this for evil reasons.’ They’re thinking, ‘I can fix this much better than those idiots.’ Or ‘No one offends me and gets away with it!’ Or ‘I really need this information, and if I hold this person over a shark-infested sea, I’ll get it.’
Even if they’re a psychopath, they’re still making sense in their own head. ‘Why are we wasting money putting the highway over there? Why not put it through the middle of the kindergarten? It’d cost a lot less, and if most of the kids die it’d fix the overpopulation problem.’
Find the story that the villain is telling themselves, and you’re more than halfway there.