Villains: Keep Your Readers Guessing!

When it comes to villains, it’s important to make sure they stand apart from all the other bad guys your readers have met – not just from other authors’ books, but even from your own line. Personally, I think the most important thing to remember (besides not plagiarizing) is to make each villain unique, so that the reader doesn’t confuse them with someone else. Not very scary if you keep forgetting the villain’s motivation or MO, right?

It’s no secret I love writing villains (related: see my ARROW villains post here and my (very long) theory on why the Joker is the best villain out there here). There’s something about that breakthrough, when you figure out what makes them tick, that pushes me to write their story. One-dimensional villains who want nothing but power are kinda boring. It’s FINE if that’s their end game, but I want to know their backstory, why they are the way they are, how they think, what they want to achieve and why. To me, villains should always believe THEY are the good guy in the story; that their plan will somehow be for the better, even if it’s only for their own goals. (Of course, you have your basic psychos and nut jobs too, but their own self-interests can also be classified as goals.)

I thought today I’d showcase my own villains in order to understand how I try to make each one different. They all have their own talents and strengths (and weaknesses), and no two backstories are the same. Sure, they’re all a little nuts, but they each have different reasons for it!

Here’s a quick breakdown of my villains, including a brand new guy you’ve never met. He’s the big bad that’s coming in IGNITED, Book 4!

Dr. Felix J. Hardy – GIFTED
Human. A brilliant scientist who is small, nerdy, and relies on his massive intellect. He was bullied as a child up through high school by an older student (he still bears the magnifying glass scars on his arms). Dr. Hardy used to be part of the Donovan show, actually, healing and helping those who needed him. Felix, despite his inner crazy streak, still treated everyone with respect, provided they repaid the favor. He was eventually hired by a corporation specializing in gifts. After a lab accident in which he became temporarily gifted, he became obsessed with being gifted himself. His jealousy became too great, causing him to lose his important job and his wife; Felix snapped, retreating into the dark to perform experiments on gifted in order to break through the science. He believes if he becomes gifted himself, others will follow him into the sunset because he can change history.

Medved the Bear – BURNED
Whereas Felix had brains, Medved, a Russian thug, is straight up brawn, his muscles and strength allowing him to lead a revolution. He is a Shapeshifter, favoring his massive bear form to intimidate and kill. He’s by no means charming, but is intelligent enough to gain followers who believe in his cause. He hates humans, especially American ones, and has no use for them, intent on leading the gifted world out of the shadows and into the spotlight. He believes gifted are superior to humans in every way (a common thought in the gifted world). He knows firsthand about experiments; Felix actually tested on him many times, causing Medved’s brute strength to grow. In his backstory, he was orphaned and living on the streets until he was thrown in Russian prison for murder and robbery. There he earned his title amongst thieves and criminals, finally breaking out to lead his own small army against humans and any gifted who protect them.

Alex the Chameleon – HUNTED
Alex is gifted, an intelligent, teenaged Chameleon with street smarts who can change his appearance (not like a Shapeshifter; instead he can change his hair and eye color, freckles, etc). We find out his drug-addled mother cheated on her human husband with a Chameleon; when the kids came out gifted, the husband killed her and went to prison, leaving the kids on their own. Alex and his twin Kayla were in foster care since childhood, running away at 14 and living on the streets. Alex is eventually taken under Medved’s hairy wing to learn the tricks of the trade, taught that gifted are superior and must take control before humans wipe them out. His personal rage against Lucy takes over, pushing him to put his own goals aside so that he can destroy her and her circus.

Augustus Rivers – IGNITED
The biggest and baddest of them all, foreshadowed since Book 2. Think of him as a mafia boss, a legend in his own right as his family has been a leader in the gifted world (for better or worse) for as long as anyone can remember. I don’t want to give too much away ’cause spoilers, but Augustus is a complicated man. He loves power, but he DOES have a conscience, though it’s certainly a tricky one to navigate. He has family, but is it enough to keep him from going after everything he believes he deserves?

BONUS VILLAINS

Xavier (X) – WITCH HEARTS
This villain is full on psychopath. I had a heck of a time writing him and he scared the pants off me. This dark witch hunts good witches for their powers, using their hearts in dark spells. X spent most of his childhood being abused by his father and jealous of his angelic little sister. (He ends up killing them both as a teenager, which really kicks off his path of crazy.) The kicker to X’s personality is that with each witch he hunts, he ends up falling in love with them (at least, his version of being in love), which makes the murders that much creepier.

Brad – A REAPER MADE
There’s a bigger villain in this story, but it’s also a major spoiler, so you’re getting the second bad guy example! (That’s okay, though, because Brad is pretty complex.) Brad turns out to be a half-witch, something that he detests because there’s no respect for him in the supernatural world. He wants nothing more than to be a full-blown, badass wizard who commands the respect and loyalty of others. Truth is, he’s a 20-year-old kid who’s torn between wanting to be the bad guy and not having enough guts for it. When he sets out on his course to trap Reapers and souls, he thought he was the one pulling the strings. When the truth comes out, he realizes he’s been played – and while part of him still wants in on the big bad plan, the human side of him battles, wanting nothing more than to keep the one person he loves alive.

So now it’s your turn in the comments: what are important elements or characteristics you want in a villain? What do they do that makes your stomach turn yet you can’t stop reading? 

Writing Inspiration: The Villains of ARROW

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Nerd alert! I love a good villain. I’ve written my take on villains by making an example of the bad guy from my first book, GIFTED. I like thinking about where they went bad, what circumstances led them to their current paths, and how much fight they can give in a scene. Lately I’ve been inspired by certain characters – especially three particular villains – from the TV show ARROW. (Warning: There could be potential spoilers here. If you plan to watch this show and don’t want to know anything, go read this nerdy entertainment post about The Dark Knight on Morality vs. Chaos.)

arrowNow, I don’t know anything about characters or stories in the Green Arrow comics, but I think I prefer it this way. I suppose one of my favorite parts about the show is that it’s as close to reality as a comic book adaptation can be – consider it the TV version of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Starling City has been overtaken by thugs and criminals in Oliver Queen’s absence, but they don’t have mind-melting powers. There’s a superhero factor, sure, but nothing so outrageous as to suggest magical powers, alien or otherwise. Oliver Queen’s superpowers, besides the bow and arrow and fight skills, are extreme abs and ninja-fast speed – but it’s believable. I appreciate the realism it brings, which is why I like the villains so much – they have to be over the top and vicious, but still a realistic foe. They’re the exact shade of bad guy I love to write (magic powers or not).

You know the ones – they’re a bit eccentric but violent, constantly on the edge of a murderous rage. People are nervous around him because it could go either way. He’s calm when he needs to be, just enough to make someone feel hope of escape, only for the villain to stab them lovingly in the right spot, killing them for somehow insulting his intelligence.

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ARROW had this type of man on in this week’s episode “Betrayal” – he went by the name of Cyrus Vanch (played by David Anders), and I wish they’d given him more screen time. I loved his deranged opener, which included killing his lawyer with one elegant knife move before going to make himself lunch. He’s aggressive with what he wants, unapologetic for his crimes and prepared to do more. He has lots of goons with guns working for him, but he wants the bigwigs to pay attention. The hooded vigilante is in the way of his rise to power. His solution? Vanch kidnaps Laurel to get to Oliver, who comes to save the day. While we watch the Hood kill his men, Vance tells Laurel why the Hood will fail – he even takes count of how many arrows the Hood has (24) and accounts for that, has a man ready inside to capture Oliver. He was smart enough to think ahead, but didn’t expect a partner as the Hood typically works alone. A surprise appearance keeps them all alive and while I wish the capture had gone down more dramatically, I’m hoping it leaves a way to bring Vanch back for revenge against Laurel and the Hood. You just know he’ll come at them with everything he’s got.

Vertigo

In “Vertigo” Oliver goes after the Count (played by Seth Gabel), a drug dealer of the worst kind, selling a drug he’s tested on homeless people, that kills the users (56 died to make it perfect), and will spread through Starling City. Seth Gabel said in an interview he used Heath Ledger’s Joker for inspiration and I think that’s easy to see – and admire, because he’s not copying it, but they both carry that flair of crazy. Gabel plays it with that same bit of confidence, the willingness to embrace chaos and make the most of it. They both like to do the dirty work themselves, thrive on watching their enemies fail. The Count doesn’t fear the police or anyone else who might threaten him – he can think on his feet. His special talents include being quick enough to jab you with the vertigo drug. The Count’s entrance is memorable – when one of his goons gets cornered by “The Hood” and lives, he’s taken to the drug kingpin. He pleads with the Count that he didn’t tell him anything. “Of course you didn’t,” the Count replies. “You don’t know anything to tell.” Just when the thug believes he’ll get out alive, the Count stabs him with his special concoction of vertigo, which makes his brain go wonky and makes him believe he’s in awful pain. The Count hands him a gun and gives him a choice: the thug can shoot and kill the Count…or he can shoot himself, thus ending the misery. The Count steps back, prepared to take a bullet, but obviously knows from experience that the victim will off himself. The smile that crosses his face as the flash, bang! goes off? Pure, delicious villainy.

Year's EnAnd then there’s this guy: the Dark Archer, from “Year’s End.” (This is a serious spoiler, so go elsewhere if you don’t want to know.) The Dark Archer is just as good at archery and hand-to-hand combat as Oliver Queen, if not better. Their fight scene was easily the best one of the season, if only because we finally see Oliver fail at getting his bad guy – not only does he not get him, but he gets seriously hurt and has to run in order to survive. Not even Oliver Queen’s magic washboard abs can defeat the Dark Archer. I didn’t expect to find out who the Dark Archer was, but when the hood came off and the man revealed – well, I’m still thinking about this twist. Turns out it’s someone close to Oliver- his best friend Tommy’s dad, Malcolm Merlyn (played by John Barrowman). We already knew Malcolm wasn’t a nice guy (like, really not), but to be that good with a bow and arrow? I never saw the rich, suit-wearing, corporate guy under the hood. Especially the one that can take on Green Arrow and win (he even suggests the Hood change his name to Green Arrow – a nice nod to the comic). And he knows about Oliver’s book of names, the evidence his father gave him to go after the criminals destroying Starling City? The Dark Archer knows how to shake Oliver Queen to his very core, the belief system he’s had for the last 5 years to survive. Turns out, as we find a couple episodes later, Malcolm – back in his expensive suit – is still angry about Tommy’s mom being murdered in the street. We don’t know why or how he turned so dark (not yet – I can’t wait for Barrowman’s scenes there!), but Tommy does mention that his dad disappeared for a while when he was only 8 years old. It’s inferred that Malcolm Merlyn made his way to the island full of bad guys who train assassins. If you look deeper into the story as a writer, perhaps he even has some sort of higher agenda by becoming the Dark Archer (going after his wife’s killer(s), maybe?). He might just be plain bad because he’s anti-Arrow, but what a deeper story for the character, right? We don’t know ulterior motives or future plans, and that’s what makes him so dangerous.

arrowposterARROW has plenty of other solid villains and storylines, but those are the three that stick out in my mind. I could easily do another piece on any of the other characters – I think the show’s that good and I hope it sticks around for as long as Stephen Amell continues to do upside-down crunches. What do you think makes a villain interesting? What traits do you love to read/write…and why should your hero fear him?

ARROW comes on Wednesdays at 8/7c on the CW Network.

Morality and Chaos: The Dark Knight

Note: This was written after The Dark Knight released in theaters (and I saw it 3 times to take it all in). Mornin’ folks! I’m so excited to see The Dark Knight Rises (Friday at 10.30pm!!) that I wanted to share a post from my old blog. I did a review of the movie during its release and it was easily my most popular entry. I’m celebrating this superhero movie and thought the nerds would appreciate a flashback of the Dark Knight before we all went to see the new movie. I’ve also included the great comments I received from people, too, because they made some great points! I’ve officially gone to see “The Dark Knight” 3 times; once in a regular theatre, twice in IMAX. It’s unbelievable. Beautiful. Brilliant. Easily on my newly updated list of top 10 favorite movies. Perhaps even the top 5. For many people, they talk about the theatrics; the adrenaline rush of car chases and fight scenes.

There’s talk of Heath Ledger receiving an Oscar; I hope that he does. He was amazing. And obviously made that movie. I’d go see it again right now if someone wanted to. And I’d still gasp at the heights, jumps, violence, and clarity. However, despite the climactic, hold your breath don’t look now scenes, the part I’m most interested in becomes clearer towards the end of the show. The first time I saw this movie, I reveled in the action. The second time got my brain humming about the deeper meaning, while this last viewing really got me started on how I think on the world today. (And PS, I’m about to reveal some spoilers, so stop reading if you don’t want any ideas of how the movie goes.)

This world is not pretty. It is not beautiful, it is not perfect, and it is not the movies. There are wars, hunger, crime, poverty. Those on the top of the cultural totem pole pretend not to notice or care. The Joker is the bad guy. You’re not supposed to like him, understand him, or relate to him. Yet Christopher Nolan has taken a loathed character, made him far darker than ever before, and yet still manages to make me honestly understand how he thinks about the world and why he’s so insistent on destroying it.

In perhaps what is one of the best speeches in movie history in regards to morality and chaos, the Joker hunts down Two-Face to have a chat. Two-Face, previously the shining White Knight of Gotham, is finally brought down to the level the Joker plays. And we see that the Joker, while an evil, psychopathic villain, is actually quite brilliant; he understands the human mind and loves to pit people against one another to show a person’s true colors when it really matters. He is someone who blows up buildings just for the fun of it (okay, it’s fun for him. But it’s not his point); he endangers lives and messes with people because he’s proving a point that when it comes down to it, people are only in it for themselves and cannot handle that which does not make sense.

To prove my point, I want you to read his speech to Two-Face in the hospital. He is defending himself to show that he himself is not the problem; he is merely “an agent of chaos” proving just how people will react in a difficult situation:

“Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it. You know, I just do things. The mob has plans, the cops have plans, Gordon’s got plans. You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are. So, when I say that you and your girlfriend was nothing personal, you know that I’m telling the truth. “It’s the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you. I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. You know what I noticed? Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying. If tomorrow I tell the press that like a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all, part of the plan. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds! “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fear.” -The Joker (The Dark Knight, 2008).

In another part of the film, he also says “You’ll see, I’ll show you, that when the chips are down, these uh… civilized people, they’ll eat each other.”

You understand this, don’t you? You read this and whether you agree with it, you know that in a way, he is correct in stating how we react to something that isn’t supposed to happen. People go about their everyday lives even while our families and soldiers are getting killed overseas. We regret their deaths and mourn their lives, but we go on, because it is what we expect. However, when a terrorist flies a plane into our buildings one September morning, we panic. It is not on our list of things to do that day.

Now I know that perhaps you want to argue Batman’s side of things and recall how the nation came together to donate money, time, and items to families and strangers alike. I truly commend them. However, my argument here is that what happened to that? It’s been 7 years and I don’t see much of a resurgence in this generosity. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen everyday; I’m merely stating that it appears to me as though for something huge like that to happen again, we must have another terrible tragedy to remind people why we do generous things. People run out of money; they get lazy or forgetful; they don’t have the time to go help out.

There are always excuses for why we start out strong, then later simmer off to close to nothing. This doesn’t mean we will tear one another apart in the face of darkness; but it seems to go along with the Joker’s theme of why the world works the way it does. I do not sympathize with the Joker. I do not plan on going out to create anarchy in order to prove his point. I merely understand his point of view and can see why he thinks about the world the way he does. I don’t think he’s wrong.

I think there are people out there willing to prove him wrong, as we see at the end of the film. But I do believe that he’s correct in saying that we panic when it’s not scheduled; we attempt everyday to scheme and plan and I’m not the only one who gets frustrated or freaks out when things don’t go the way I expect them to. My sister and her husband decided not to have children because she simply did not want to bring a child into this chaotic world; my brother, ever the optimist, wanted to bring children in to raise into a good person, to try and change the world into what we wish it to be. The Joker gets to Two-Face. The purest of them all has fallen to the Joker’s level.

Two-Face tells Batman and Commissioner Gordon “You thought we could be decent men in an indecent time. But you were wrong. The world is cruel, and the only morality in a cruel world is chance. [holds up his coin] Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair.”

The optimists of the world are screaming at him not to believe this. They’re now telling the world he’s wrong; to uphold Batman, Commissioner Gordon, Rachel, and their belief in the good of people. How Gotham’s citizens couldn’t take a life, no matter how vile or disgusting they believe it to be. I won’t say they’re wrong. I simply think the Joker has a very, very good point. Sure, he’s crazy and belongs in Arkham Asylum. He believes he’s not a monster. He’s merely “just ahead of the curve.”

Of course we need rules, structure, laws; otherwise, chaos would reign and no one would have a real chance of actually living. But I see the Joker’s point. I’m just sayin’.

I want to go back to school so badly just to write this paper. It’s fascinating. Sorry for the lecture; I’m merely an English major with an insatiable need to explore people and places in a literate way. All I know is, “The Dark Knight” is effin’ sweet. “Never start with the head–the victim gets all fuzzy.”

 
  1. What about the part where the joker had the boat of regular people and the boat of criminals and tells them that if one doesn’t blow up the other, he’ll blow both up? You remember that part? In the end, neither group could blow the other up. What does that say about people? That in general, people are good?

    As far as the stuff about people going on with their everyday lives while there is war, hunger, crime and poverty… many or most people probably do care or at least notice, but maybe no one knows what to do. That’s what I think anyway. When thinking about various tradgedies like 9/11, it’s easy to say that people of forgotten. I don’t think anyone has really forgotten, but what do we do now? A quote for you, Ms. English Major: “In three words I can sum up everything I have learned about life: It goes on.” – Robert Frost Good blog. More thought provoking that most we’ve written lately. We’re typically too stuck in our own worlds to think about things like this.

  2. Upon leaving the theatre after seeing this movie, I thought about it and realized I did not remember all that happened in the last 45 minutes. My brain just didn’t soak it in. C wants to go see it again to get the ‘full effect’ but I don’t usually enjoy movies twice. We’ll see on this one because you’ve got some great points. I had written about this too in the fact that it made me feel like I was in a criminal world, and being that it was filmed in my city now, I no longer wanted to be here. I guess I’m part of the naive society that hates to think about it all, cause when I do I become overwhelmed and feel the pressures to do something, and yet have neither the courage or understanding to start. But I really enjoyed your ‘lecture’ and know it makes me think about seeing the movie again. But I’m still pissed about Rachel!

  3. Nice blog! I just watched The Dark Knight last night-for the third or fourth time. The Joker character and his dialogues about chaos and morality really get my head spinning every time I watch it, and these are some of my favorite subjects. I actually googled “films chaos morality” to see if I could find a similar film to The Dark Knight, but I came across your blog first. Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. I also wanted to share a video that I made with you or anyone else that finds your blog interesting:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytGpkTOmn8g I think it’s pretty relevant. It’s a collection of quotes on various topics, but there is an underlying theme of chaos and ethics, I think. That’s my perception anyway. Thanks for the blog, let me know what you think about the video. Oh, and don’t shy away from facing the truth about the world we live in. Seek the truth and make sense of it to make the world, or at least your life, better. I would also recommend “Ethics for the New Millenium” by the Dalai Lama. Big inspiration for the video I made, and very important book for anyone in modern society. I can sympathize with your sister for not wanting to have children. I feel the same way she does, but I hope someone or something comes along to change my mind. Take it easy!

  4. Oh yeah, and he says chaos is “fair” not “fear,” which is actually much more frightening when you think about it.

  5. You know, I have never been on this site nor do I know who you are, but I have been researching the theory: Morality of Chaos. The Dark Knight is a shining example of this theory. Everything the Joker does is his way of proving that their is no such thing as order. That order is always temporary and will always degrade over time. The Joker shows that Order, like all things, is subject to entropy. Nature is, by its very nature, chaotic. To enforce order over nature, one must never become complacent. This is why the Joker does what he does. He does not want to “watch the world burn” nor is he a “mad dog”. The Joker is the Truth. Batman is the lie. Harvey Dent paid the price for believing in Order over chaos and Rachel died. But the hardest hitting grit behind everything in the movie is the fact that had Batman never pressured the mob, the mob never would have hired the Joker, Harvey Dent would remain noble and just, Rachel would still be alive, and Gotham would have continued the way it was. And so at the end of the film, Batman realizes that the Joker was right in the respect that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. That to do something honorable, someting devious must first take place. That when you bring a gun to knife fight, the enemy will then bring a nuke to a gun fight. Harmony requires chaos. Otherwise harmony could not exist. This is why the Joker is the true hero. He was the reaction that will always occur when you threaten too much and understand too little.