V is for villain

Continuing with the A-Z challenge – we’re nearly at the end.

Without conflict there is no story. Without a villain of some kind, there is very little conflict. Villains can be the most interesting to play, watch or write about. All restrictions are removed; your villain doesn’t have to be honest, or good, or behave in any expected way.

One of my favourite villains is Sue Sylvester from Glee; the coach for the cheerleaders, Sue has always declared battle against the Glee club members, and done what she can to cause problems for them. And yet there’s another dimension┬áto her, that makes her so much more than a stereotypical villain: she has a sister with Downs Syndrome, and she loves that sister dearly. She loves winning, but playing the game is more important than winning outright, so if she gets too far ahead she will back down. When she judges a competition and the other judges are looking down their noses at the kids from glee, Sue stands up for them and gives them her vote – not that she would ever admit it to anyone, of course.

Another villain who fascinates me is Snape. I was never convinced that he was as bad as Harry made out, because it seemed to me that he was more a victim than a villain. Somehow, my response to the character in the book was to feel sorry for him and empathise with him over the way he was treated, and to look for redeeming features.

I’d like to write a villain like that – a villain who becomes so effective because readers can empathise, can understand his behaviour and really feel him as a well-rounded character, not a caricature of a bad guy.

One moment I remember when reading Pride and Prejudice at school, which in one way marked my growth from fiction to literature, was when Mrs Bennett makes some sort of joke. In my young mind, characters were good characters or bad characters, and I’d classified Mrs Bennett as bad guy. So to see her behaving like a normal person, joking with the others and getting on with them, came as a shock to me. in that moment, I realised that book characters can be the same as real people, rounded out, both good and bad, rather than the diametrically opposed characters I’d read about up until that point.

So my heroes can’t be perfect, they need to carry some sort of flaw, and my villains need to have some sort of justification for their behaviour, even if it’s misguided. That’s one of the aspects that will lift my writing and give it strength.