As part of my author guest blog series I am proud to present another guest blog spot.
I am very excited and
Would you like to be a part of my author guest blog series? Please contact me! firstname.lastname@example.org
Now without further adieu here is Robert’s awesome guest blog.
And don’t forget to check out his book:
IS OUT NOW!
So go get your copy!
On Creating My Ideal Adversary
by Robert J. Duperre
Literature is full of larger-than-life villains that not only drive stories forward, but help give the heroes meaning. What would Frodo Baggins be without Sauron? How many of Sherlock Holmes’s mysteries would have been interesting had Moriarty not been there to mock and torment him at every turn? Without the Joker, would Batman just be a crazy rich guy in a Halloween costume? If the Man in Black had ever come down with crippling gout and couldn’t flee across the desert, then what reason would The Gunslinger have to follow?
Villains don’t even have to be people. In Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and Orwell’s 1984, governmental tyranny was the main antagonist, while in Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s misogyny supported by religious doctrine. Katniss clashed heads with classism in Collins’ The Hunger Games, and both human nature and nature-nature were the enemy in McCarthy’s The Road. All brought different strengths and weaknesses to the table; all were forces against which the protagonists risked everything to fight.
So that begs the question, what makes a universally great villain? To which I’d answer: Who the hell knows? Greatness is a completely subjective notion. Everyone has different likes and dislikes; every person has different triggers, and none of them holds the absolute. You could find numerous articles online telling you how to create a strong and captivating villain, and they may be correct, but only from one particular author’s point of view. My purpose isn’t to tell what makes or breaks a captivating antagonist, but what kind of villain I, as an author, am interested in crafting.
It all starts with the bare bones: figuring out what traumas my baddie will bring into my little fictional world. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about my villains—they’re the ones that tend to drive the narrative, while the heroes are swept along in their wake, having to adjust to the dire situations as they happen. I think my penchant for this kind of plot device comes from how helpless I can sometimes feel in my own life; the world can be a big, scary leviathan trying to pull me under, and here I am, just trying to hang on.
This being the case, I tend to gravitate toward those that think big. In my series The Rift, the big bad was a living force of nature that hated the randomness of existence and decided that everything would be way easier if he could reshape everyone into reflections of himself. It’s a bonus that those reflections just so happened to be zombies. Alexander Cottard, from my ongoing urban fantasy series The Infinity Trials, is a regular human man who wants to bring about peace on Earth by force and the elimination of free will. Big picture thinkers with big, scary goals.
But no matter how huge and frightening their plans are, I always want to give my baddies, both major and minor, something that makes them relatable. Maybe the racist sociopath was badly abused as a child and now lashes out, trying to ease their inner turmoil by inflicting pain on others. Perhaps we have a vampire who has lived hundreds of years, starting out as a decent, even noble creature, only to have their appreciation for the sanctity of life diminishing as they watch loved ones grow old and die, time and again. Or possibly we could have a corrupt politician, their equating of self-worth to the power they obtain engrained in them since childhood, when the only praise they received was when they accomplished the next goal set about by haughty, controlling parents. Basically anything that will instill a grain of empathy into my own (and, by extension, the reader’s) understanding of the character. That famous wash of gray tingeing the darkness that says, hey, you know what? Maybe they can change.
And yes, this is important to me, because I don’t ever want to think of a world where a person (or even a monster) is irredeemable.
My final duty, after all of this is taken into account, is determining my villain’s motivation. Yes, a rough childhood may lead to an unsavory adult, but the thought processes behind that transformation are important than the causes. There are so many steps along the way that lead a person (or character) from one stage in life to another. Developing those reasons, even if they never make it onto the page, makes the character pop that much more. Adding little tidbits into a character’s history can completely alter a story. Let’s say a soul-sucking demon that’s lived since the dawn of man had built a friendship somewhere in his past, a friendship that leads the beast to remember a single slice of joy from the long expanse of its life. That fleeting memory can then be a plot device I use later, perhaps giving the antagonist a moment’s hesitation the heroes might use to their advantage, therefore swinging the momentum of the tale, and maybe even making the reader feel a little sorry for the fiend in question.
When I build a villain and expose his inner workings, anything’s possible. But more importantly, the path I choose doesn’t come out of nowhere.
There are very few antagonists that work sans motivation—the previously-mentioned Joker being one, and Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter as another. (Though it could be argued the good Doctor is more antihero than straight-up villain.) With those types of characters, the mystery of where they came from and what motivates them is their appeal; the thought that they are the way they are just because, well, that’s the way they are, no explanations needed.
For me, the problem with these kinds of characters is that the good ones are few and far between. Also, the potential for what you can accomplish with them is both unlimited and restricted at the same time. Yes, a character with no back story and defined motivation can bring a feeling of expectant dread, since the protagonists can never guess what they’re going to do next, but that also tends to make their deeds seem almost hollow in their randomness. In incapable hands, that character can become nothing but a cycle of sameness that plods on and on, which can begin to wear on both reader and writer alike. When chaos becomes rote and predictable, what point is there in continuing reading?
This writer can’t operate under anarchic rule. Give me a fleshed-out villain any day of the week. Or, on the other hand, perhaps that’s what I can give to you.
About Robert J. Duperre:
Robert J. Duperre is a really great guy. Actually, he’s not. Though he is the author of eight novels that offer a mix of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, and co-wrote The Breaking World with David Dalglish an epic fantasy adventure series published by 47North. Robert lives in rural Connecticut with his wife, the artist Jessica Torrant.
Twitter – @robertduperre
Newsletter – http://eepurl.com/Mo8G5
Website – http://journalofalways.blogspot.com
It’s been a thousand years since the Rising.
Earth is a wasteland, and a holy order of knights is all that stands between what remains of civilization and the brigands and demons trying to bring it all down. When the oldest of these knights, Abe, isn’t trying to keep his brothers in line, he’s tirelessly attempting to decode the riddles that have guided the Knights Eternal for the past two centuries.
The visions Abe’s been having aren’t helping matters.
The latest riddle sends the Knights Eternal after a prophet and his band of Outriders. Or is it sending them to seek the Prophet’s aid? It’s a question Abe needs answered. With his sanity fleeing, more demons than ever rising from the Pit, and rumors circulating of an army of risen dead, failure for the knights might end the world this time once and for all.
Where else will reincarnated musicians become gun-slinging knights to patrol a post-apocalyptic wasteland? Only in Soultaker. This book by Robert J. Duperre takes a pound of Game of Thrones, a few cups of The Wild Bunch, a dash of Doom, and a sprinkle of Doctor Who, and mixes them all into a fun, horrific ride.
Powell’s City of Books: http://www.powells.com/book/soultaker-9781945528040/61-0