Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Why is Your Villain Needlessly Exposing Themselves To Danger?

A long time ago I edited a manuscript whose author I won't name, and whose title I won't give. However, the plot summary was that a young noblewoman and a merchant prince were planning to run away together, until her uncle intervened. A sorcerer who was bartering her hand in marriage for an item of power key to a ritual, her uncle used a spell to transform her lover into a ring. Then, for some reason, explained to our protagonist that should this curse ever be broken, and she and her lover stand against him, it would be the only way to defeat his power.

This is literally the description given for the transformation, as well. Seriously.

Fast forward a few hundred years while our female lead has lived a dozen different reincarnations, her lover has been imprisoned in a gaudy piece of jewelry, and her "uncle" has made himself the next best thing to immortal with the powers at his command. Then (because there would be no plot otherwise) the current incarnation of our protagonist awakens her ancient lover from his prison, and breaks the curse. The lovers are confused, but reunited.

For a bit of context, the lovers are in Australia when the curse is broken. Our villain is in Thailand.

Despite having absolutely nothing to gain from confronting the two lovers, and everything to lose (as was previously mentioned, the two of them are now empowered in some unspecific way to stand against him now that they're reunited), our villain hops a jet, and flies for hours to a nation halfway around the world to find these two people who don't remember he even exists. He then confronts them, repeatedly taunting them with who they actually are, only to get himself killed due to hubris, and lack of imagination.

This sounds stupid (because it is) but this is something I've seen writers do time and time again.

The Villain Needs Goals, Too

In the scenario presented the villain has precisely zero reason to get involved in this situation. Even if we acknowledge that putting this dire curse on the man centuries ago was better than, say, just cutting his throat for some reason, confronting our heroes now is all risk and no reward. The villain could have paid a hitman to off them, keeping himself completely out of danger. He could have worked a dire ritual (or at least tried to) to slay them from afar. Or he could have just moved on with his life and let time kill them, because he was still immortal, and neither of them were now that the man was no longer a metal finger decoration.

Time, my friends, is one thing I have that you lack.

Breaking the curse did not, for example, cause the villain to age at a rapid rate, requiring him to kill or re-curse the original victim in order to maintain his immortality. The villain didn't have some great slight on his pride that still burned hundreds of years later that he needed to humiliate these two over. Hell, he'd completely lost track of the ring not an hour after the original curse was laid down, and he hadn't bothered in the slightest about the condition of his niece's soul moving from one life to the next.

He was there for one reason only; because the protagonist and her lover-out-of-time needed some threat to face together to add drama to the story.

The problem is, of course, that if a villain's presence seems pointless, then it causes the reader to start questioning why they're doing anything. And once they've stepped back to start questioning the narrative like that, it makes it easier to notice other flaws they might have been overlooking before. Which is why it really pays dividends to make sure the ballistics of your plot (the direction shots are fired from, and the purpose those shots were meant to accomplish) make sense.

Try To See Things From Their Perspective

Villains need to be just as organic and believable as any other character in your story. Perhaps more so, as people need a concrete reason why they're opposing the villain's actions and goals. And when you just sort of leave them on the back burner (or worse, make them arbitrarily evil just because that's easier to do) you end up with a bad guy who's carrying an idiot ball.

Which is to say, you have them taking certain actions or making certain mistakes that only an idiot would make, because if they didn't there would be no book to read, movie to watch, game to play, etc.

Seriously... just step back and question things for a moment.

This is not to say your bad guys should huddle in bunkers or remain entirely hidden in the shadows all the time. However, they should have a compelling reason to step out into harm's way, and that reason should do something to fulfill their needs, or achieve their goals. Maybe it's a thirst for vengeance, and wanting the protagonist to know who it was that killed them in their final moments. Maybe it's a special skill set that only the villain possesses, so they need to be present at a certain place at a specific time in order to do their thing. Whether it's purely practical, or something to feed their ego, make sure your villain actually has skin in the game before you put them in front of the protagonist's fist.

Because if they stand to gain nothing whatsoever, it makes no sense for them to risk everything.

Lastly, if you haven't signed up for my weekly newsletter, do so to get all my shiny new updates sent right to your inbox! Also, if you're having trouble dealing with villains in your story, consider checking out 5 Tips For Playing Better Evil Characters. It's meant for tabletop gamers, but it's also useful for writers to think about.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my cat noir novel Marked Territory, my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my most recent short story collection The Rejects!
And to stay on top of all my latest news and releases, collected once a week, make sure you subscribe to The Literary Mercenary's mailing list

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

1 comment: