There was an interesting discussion about villains on the Compuserve Books and Writers’ forums. What makes a good villain? Do you develop them as fully as you do your protagonist? Do you know their story? Why they do what they do? Are they multi-layered?

Are they evil? Truly evil?

I bought a writing book called Writing a Novel in Thirty Days. I think that’s the title. I can’t find it right now. It’s probably in book box 98 and I am only up to unpacking book box 14.

One thing that struck me about this book is the way characters are laid out. They are fully developed. You write out their complete physical descriptions, family, trade skills, personality traits, unusual habits etc. In other words, all of your characters are brought to life. You may not use half of what you describe, but it helps form them in your mind. You know how they would react to a given situation. When your characters take over your story, and they will, your mind already knows how each character will react to new circumstances.

Now that we know our characters, how evil does your villain need to be to get the job done?

I like multi-faceted characters. My heroes aren’t really heroes. They are flawed, ordinary people, who make mistakes. Mostly they just happen to be in the right place at the wrong time and try to do what they think is right. They make mistakes, yes, it bears saying again. They aren’t all gorgeous and perfect. They’re just people.

My villains are sometimes the same way with some notable differences. Elizabetha, in Paladin’s Pride, is a sociopath. She engages in torture, murder, kidnapping, blackmail and has no redeeming value.

Captain Morgahn is a pirate, who doesn’t have a lot of qualms about breaking the law, but he does have a heart.

Timmons is a demon in human form. People are to be used, but even he isn’t as dark as Elizabetha, who enjoys inflicting pain.

In Dancing Horses, the assassin is a cold-hearted killer, but he has some notable tenderness. No one would ever guess he is a killer. He has a way of making people relax and trust him. He’s charming and attentive.

In Dragon Valley, the villain is a queen, who has no remorse about wiping out a race of singing dragons and the elves who protect them.

How far do we go to make our villains evil without being cartoons?

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