Give Me Desire, Show Me Fear

Credit image: Caravaggio, “Narcissus.” Oil on canvas, 1597-1599

As writers, we’re always told to flesh out our characters. But they didn’t refer to just our protagonists. If even secondary characters need substance then how do we write our antagonists?

The villains in our stories aren’t always monstrous/fantastical creatures. Take for example, Lord Voldemort. He is villain numero uno in the Harry Potter series. To Harry himself and the entire magical and muggle world. He looked the part with his red slitted eyes, pale skin and skeletal body. But I also found him to be pitiable as well.

Why? Because with all his power it was his desires and fears that led him to his downfall. He desired immortality so much so that he’d split his soul to achieve it. He even proclaimed himself as the master of death, all because he secretly feared it. He desired power and supremacy. He denounced love because he couldn’t understand it.

Or Captain Ahab. In his world, the great white whale Moby Dick, is the villain. But isn’t he also the villain in endangering his crew with his vengefulness? And aren’t the whalers the villains in Moby Dick’s world? Why else would he attack the whaling ships?

If we know that a good and perfect protagonist is boring, then it’s the same with a completely evil villain. So next time we’re writing, let’s put ourselves in our antagonist’s shoes. Get to know the villains in our stories better. And remember the following quotes:

  • “Every villain is a hero in his own mind.”- Tom Middleton
  • “Your villain should not think he’s taking over the world because he can, but because he thinks it’s the only way to save it.”- unknown
  • “You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.”- John Rogers
  • “No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”- Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Food for thought: Who were your favorite villains and why? What type of villains scare you the most? The ones that go bump in the dark? The maniacal mad scientist type? Or the ones standing right next to you?

Credit image: Edvard Munch, “The Scream.” Oil, tempera and pastel on cardboard, 1893.


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