Making VILLAINS Realistic
"People will do far more to Avoid Pain than they will to Seek Pleasure."
When I craft a villain, I go out of my way to make darned sure that my fictional villains are as realistic as the villains we face in real life.
How do I do that? I give them feelings, motives, and emotional issues.
Human predators, villains (fictional and non-fictional) always
have a reason that drives them to be villainous. Even mass murderers have reasons (however twisted) for doing what they do. NO villainous action is RANDOM.
The victim may be randomly chosen, but the villain’s actions always have a reason, and that reason is driven by a very human issue caused by an unfulfilled and essential human need
. Key Human Issues:
• Recognition & Attention
• Ridicule & Embarrassment
• Control“Is there a specific pattern to how a human predator operates?”
YES, there is!
Let’s begin with a list of the most common personality traits found in your average psychopath:
• Glib and superficial
• Egocentric and grandiose
• Lacking in remorse or guilt
• Deceitful & manipulative
• Lacking responsibility
• Emotionally shallow
From Predicting Violent Behavior
by Psychiatrist John Monahan
Most people have a few of the above traits in lesser or greater degree, however the key trait necessary for a true human predator is “Lacking in remorse or guilt.”
True predators have no compunction about what they do, or to whom they do it.
Choosing a Victim
When a predator chooses his prospective victim, four questions go through his mind: Do I feel Justified in using violence?
It can be as simple as feeling that they have been provoked, as an act of revenge, to as complicated as looking for an excuse to start an argument to validate an angry response.
The truly dangerous predators do what they do because they WANT to. In fact, justification for their actions usually comes after they’ve already chosen their victim. Are there Alternative ways to get what I’m really after?
Seduction, and manipulation into being given what they’re actually after is usually the first technique they try. Violence is normally a technique of last resort, unless committing an act of violence is their actual goal. Can I deal with the Consequences of my actions?
Can they successfully hide the evidence of their deeds? Do they have support from others, such as in a mob scene or a gang situation, where everyone around them is committing violence too? Do I have the Ability / Opportunity to commit this act?
Do they believe they can successfully carry out the deed?
Once a predator feels that he has satisfactory answers to these four questions the next steps are among these…
Manipulating the Victim into being Vicimized
• Forced Teaming
This is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists. It is a sophisticated manipulation technique for establishing false trust, using a “we’re all in the same boat together” attitude. “Both of us…”; “We’re some team…”; “How are we going to handle this one?”; “Now we’ve done it…” The most effective style of this technique plays on the victim’s sympathy and makes the victim WANT to participate. “You’d do the same for me.”
This is very difficult to rebuff without being rude -- which is precisely why they do it. • Charm & Niceness
Charm (verb) and Niceness are manipulation techniques used to compel, and/or control through allure or attraction. A smile is the Number One most typical disguise used to mask emotions, and intent.
These two techniques are used specifically to gain much of the information they will need to evaluate and then control their prospective victim. • Mindless Chatter
This is a manipulation technique a predator uses to convince their victim that they are harmless and someone the victim knows. They overwhelm their victim with nonsense chatter, in order to get physically closer. • Typecasting
This is a manipulation technique where the predator labels their victim in a slightly negative manner. “You’re probably too rich, too pretty, too important, too proud, too much of a snob to talk to me.” This induces the victim into acting the opposite just to prove them wrong -- and placing themselves right into the predator's hands. • Loan Sharking
A manipulation technique where the predator deliberately does the victim a favor specifically to place the victim in their debt. “Let me help you.”
The proctor buys a pupil ices
And hopes the boy will not resist,
When he attempts to practice vices
Few people even know exist.
~ Edward Gorey ~
• The Unsolicited Promise
A manipulation technique designed to convince the victim that they are trustworthy. “I’ll just walk you to your doorstep and leave, I promise.” “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
• Discounting the word “No.”
When this word is spoken by the victim, the predator’s immediate response is to use every manipulation technique in their arsenal to convince the victim in that they don’t really mean “no”, up to and including, ignoring the word outright. This is to gain back their momentary loss of control over the victim’s actions.
A predator may use only a few of these techniques or all of them, but the target result is to manipulate their victim into a corner which the victim feels they cannot escape -- such as inside the victim’s home.
Sympathy for the Devil…
“Murder your Darlings!” ~ Hemmingway
As far as I'm concerned the author SHOULD sympathize with the villain, that's how you GET true depth of character - truth in their characterization, actions and speech - but the Viewpoint Character and the Reader, should NOT sympathize with the villain too much, unless you intend to redeem the villain, or cause massive angst to your main character – and your readers. Fair Warning:
Too much sympathy for the villain drives the reader to think that you intend to save him - and they get royally pissed when you knock him off. It has happened to me!
My test readers totally misread a story I was in the process of crafting and assumed that the Villain was the Hero! Because of this, they vehemently protested his upcoming demise! To satisfy my readers I had to cut the whole second half of the book off and write that villain a whole new story where he WAS the hero. When I rewrote my original story, I had learned my lesson. NO ONE complained when I killed the villain that time.
Under normal circumstances, if I accidentally craft a Redeemable villain, but redemption does not serve the plot - I DON'T save him, I rework him to be less sympathetic, and then I kill his butt to serve the plot and the premise. To me STORY comes first.
But, if I really, REALLY like this character and want to save him regardless of the story in progress, I do save him – in a Whole Different Story. I leave his character intact but change his name, tweak his history and then craft a whole New story around him to do just that - redeem the villain.
The Villain’s Point of View?
HELL NO! ~ Don't Kill the Thrill ~ Damn it!
I never, ever, EVER put my villain's Point of View into a story.
Why Not? It gives away the punch-line before the joke is done. The villain’s POV KILLS the surprise because the reader already knows what’s going on, so where’s the surprise?
I want my readers to be as surprised as the viewpoint character when they get to the end of the story and finally discover why the Villain did all those dastardly deeds.
The villain's POV has a tendency to reveal too much, such as their MOTIVES, and answers too many questions that ruin the Mystery for the reader, such as "Why is this happening?"
There are a number of NYT bestseller Suspense authors that hide the Villain's more revealing information by cutting the reader off as soon as the Villain has an interesting thought or view.
They’re CHEATING using a rather nasty technique known as "Illegitimate Third Person POV"
, something actual Mystery writers wouldn’t be caught dead doing.
However, I suppose such poor suspense techniques are to be expected from Suspense novels as they are technically mystery-flavored
novels, the way Futuristics have usually very poor world-building as they are Science-Fiction-flavored
, not true Science-Fiction. What is "Illegitimate Third Person POV"?
When the "Point of View" is done correctly, whatever that viewpoint character knows, the Reader knows. EVERYTHING that is in the POV character's head is revealed as it is seen and felt. If that POV character looks at it, then the Reader should see it too, if that POV character thinks it, then the Reader should be aware of it -- that includes SECRETS!
"Illegitimate Third Person POV" is when everything EXCEPT those secrets are revealed. It's "illegitimate" because the Reader is cheated
out of learning what they need to know to solve the story.
On a personal note, I refuse to read books or stories written with "Illegitimate Third Person POV", because if "I" can white a story without cheating, THEY CAN TOO! (Freaking lazy-butt writers... Grumble, grumble, grumble…)
"But I thought... the Villain's POV Increases the Suspense?"
The Villain’s POV KILLS the Suspense.
Why? Because suspense may be generated by the reader knowing that the main viewpoint character is in extreme danger (when the POV character doesn't,) but it totally KILLS the Impact when the main viewpoint character finds out
how much danger they are actually in.
It’s like someone whispering, “I’m gonna yell ‘boo’ in that kid’s ear.”
When you see the kid jump, you might grin, but did YOU jump? No. Why not? Because you weren’t surprised.
If someone yells “BOO!” in the ear of the guy sitting next to you without warning, do you jump then? Yes. See?
The REAL way to keep suspense going is to present CLUES about the villain and his nefarious plans to the main POV character - and the reader - through behavior and dialogue cues. This lets the Reader feel that they are solving the mystery along side the main character. "But I need it for the Plot!"
If the author can't write the story WITHOUT including the Villain's POV, then it’s very possible that there's a deeper more serious flaw in the story.
The Author has focused on the WRONG main character.
Instead of the Hero and/or Heroine in the lead, the Villain is leading the book. If the villain is leading the book, then it's time to rethink the plot. For example, rewrite the story so that the villain leads from beginning to end! I know LOTS of readers who love a good book from the villain’s POV!In Conclusion…
When one is writing Villains, one should know how Real villains think and act, but that doesn’t mean your Reader should know what’s going on in their heads. More than half the fun of a really good Villain, is guessing what they’ll do next!
My textbook for crafting realistic villains:
"The Gift of Fear
" by Gavin DeBecker
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.