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You underestimate the power of the Dark Side - Darth Vader

In this post, I am going to talk about an area of story development that many new writers often fail to give their due. I am referring to the story's bad guy. The monster under the bed, the tyrannical overlord, or even the once noble and heroic individual who was led astray by forces beyond reckoning. I love writing and developing my villains so forgive me if I get long winded on this subject.

As I stated in the last post, your characters are the key to driving your story forward. How they act and react to the world around them is what lures readers in, not just random obstacles thrown into their path. Personalities need developed until your players leap off the page in living, breathing moments. This is no less true for the bad guys of the story.

The villain brings a writer the opportunity to take all of the basest emotions and breathe life into those feelings that we try to keep suppressed. Greed, jealousy, fear - take your pick of the Seven Deadly Sins if you like - can all be an underlying character flaw of your antagonist. Misplaced loyalty. Deceitful nature. Just likes to kick puppies. All of these can be built into personality traits that give you an insight into the blackest of souls. But a clearly defined personality may not be enough.

The place where so many writers miss the point is that their antagonists lack a clear motive. Aside from zombies, no one is a threatening menace just for the sake of being bad. Cliche time - the villain is the hero from their own point of view. Something in their past set their feet upon a path that created their own heart of darkness, but they feel justified in following their subsequent course of action. Here are a couple of familiar examples.

Let's start with my personal favorite, Darth Vader. Noble Jedi Knight who grew up in a time of war, and was lied to by a trusted mentor. Came to the conclusion that order needed restored in the galaxy, even if it was through an iron fisted, authoritarian regime. And force choking a few people along the way didn't hurt either. By giving rise to the idea that "Fear will keep the local systems in line", Vader helped bring about a time of relative peace by ending the conflict that had been ripping apart the galaxy for years. His participation brought balance to the Force, and the Star Wars universe arguably thrived where Imperial law was obeyed.

Now let's visit the MCU, and have a look at Thanos. An overshadowing threat from the beginning, the Mad Titan's intention was to save a universe struggling with famine, pollution, and finite resources. His rationalization was that he could -and had- made resources stretch for generations to come. Children went to bed with full bellies, drank clean water, and their home planets had become edenic paradises everywhere he had inflicted his will. The only caveat was that his plan involved a systematic unbiased killing of half of all living beings. Other than that, an argument could be made that he was the quintessential resource manager. Like Employee of the Year material, but all joking aside, he was the hero from his own perspective.

Lastly, let's look at my own bad guys. Without being too spoilery, (after all I want you read my work for yourself), my villains don't have the twisted sense of altruism shared by the previous examples, but they have agendas, nonetheless.

"The Dockside Slayer", as he is first known in Thieves' Honor, hunts the people of the city to create his army of the undead so that he may rule over a necropolis with himself as the lord and master. His is a story of conquest, keeping only enough of the citizens around to serve as cattle and servants. A man of power from a time long ago, the Slayer seeks to recapture the authority and regain the glory that had been stripped away from him by those who stood against his nature.

Shade, the Father of Nightmares, from The Witches of Pioneer Vale series, seeks to destroy our heroines because they stand in the way of his own master's domination of our world. For all of his power, the demonic wolf is still a lieutenant of a larger agenda, and one that you, my faithful readers, will learn more about as the series continues. Likewise, Shade's right hand men (again, no spoilers, sorry) have their own personal reason for siding with the forces of darkness. Greed and envy are the core of what urges these accomplices onward, but it is also their own relationships with the Witches themselves that causes fuel for their enmity.

In my opinion, the villain of the story actually requires even more development and understanding by the author of what makes him/her/it tick because their agenda needs more clearly understood. The hero gets away with just saying, "I need to save the day". The antagonist, however, has to have a reason. What is he seeking? What is the grandiose plan? They might be after something as simple as world domination or forcing someone into a marriage that they otherwise wouldn't be into. Greed and the thirst for power can create some powerful enemies for our heroes. The good guys don't need to explain why they want to stop the world from being crushed under someone's bootheel. They know it is the right thing to do, but give your bad guys a compelling reason to get up in the morning. When you give these corruptions some depth, you will find yourself with a bad guy so despicable and memorable that fans can't wait for the sequel.

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