Since PULP! Summer/Fall 2012 is now out and “A Stiff Drink,” the latest chapter of Blowing Off Some Steam is available for public consumption, I’ve been deep in the planning stages for how I’m going to continue the story – and I’ve decided it’s time to introduce the character that’s going to act as the primary villain in the narrative.
Writing a good villain can be difficult. Sometimes it can be much harder than writing a good protagonist, especially if you’re trying to avoid the old cliché of the Big Bad Evil Guy. There are already too many well-established tropes out there, and there’s no need to bring out yet another a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash clone because you’ve got to have someone to pit the good guys up against.
Motivations for your characters are important. If the reason someone’s doing something doesn’t make sense – or there’s no reason at all – the character is ultimately going to be flat, and unless your story is purposely written to be less about character interaction and more about just barreling the plot forward to the next action scene, you can’t really afford to have scenery-chewing villains that have shaky or one-dimensional motivations. This isn’t to say that a good plot-driven action story can’t be a fun read, but you can add depth to your characters without sacrificing a well-paced plot.
Villains offer a great opportunity to stretch your abilities as a writer by coming up with something that doesn’t just subvert the expected tropes but defies them altogether. Sure, maybe your bad guy is a miserable fuck that only cares about amassing huge piles of money to swim around in like Scrooge McDuck, but if he’s just a caricature of the typical Wall Street Asshole he’s less of a real character and more of a thinly-veiled (or overt) attack on the kind of rampant, unchecked capitalism that makes people want to punch Mitt Romney right in his smug, expensive face. Instead, you can take the core idea of that type of character and flesh him or her out – give them a motivation deeper than just greed.
One of the best examples of this is how Andrew Ryan from BioShock is characterized. Yes, on the surface he’s a stand-in for Objectivism, considering his name is a modified anagram of Ayn Rand, but the way Ryan is portrayed gives him such depth that you can empathize with the motivation behind all his actions. As you play through the game, you can find yourself sympathizing with the man – an incredibly brilliant and driven entrepreneur who believed with every last ounce of his being that he was working to create the perfect civilization – up to the confrontation you have with him (for the sake of spoilers I won’t mention what happens, but if you haven’t played the game, you’re missing out. You can skip the sequel, though).
Far be it for me to say that I’m going to crib from BioShock, but if I can create a villain with the same amount of resonance with readers that Andrew Ryan has with gamers, I can go home happy.
What do you think? Do you enjoy villains with depth or do you prefer the classic black-and-white of Good versus Evil?