Everybody has had them – that one person (or sometimes, more than one) in your life that seems to thwart you at every turn, but, for whatever reason, you are forced to deal with. It could be a boss, a co-worker, a wayward family member, an annoying neighbor, an overly-attached ex, but either way, everyone has a nemesis. Okay, maybe not on that grand scale, but, everybody certainly has a foil.
Most characters have one too. Sure, for some characters, the foil is nature or the forces of the universe, or just life in general. But most characters have that person that pushes their buttons, that seems determined to make their lives more difficult.
As a writer, it can be difficult to craft a good villain. It may be troubling to try and imagine a person who would find it easy to do the things we would never think of doing. It usually takes a few brain stretches to get there. There is, however, a major rule that can make this a much easier process.
Every villain is the hero of his own story.
The first thing we are supposed to be thinking of when we create a hero is their motivation – what are they trying to obtain, to do. A villain should be created in exactly the same way. You must first ask yourself what they are trying to accomplish.
Next step for both hero and villain should be – what are they willing to do to attain their goals? This is where the moral code of the character gets built. Will they do anything necessary? Are there limits? What are they?
Then, the big one. Why? Why would a character be okay with risking their lives or ending others? You need to know that, because, if you’re going to have a character that is totally okay with a killing spree, you’d better explain what is causing that moral bankruptcy. It’s certainly not a common reaction to have. Does a mental illness keep them from fully understanding the difference between right and wrong? Have these people done something to the killer that has made them able to justify this alarming behavior? Is their motivation so important that literally nothing, even the death of others, trumps it? Remember, this applies to heroes as well – many heroes mow down villains indiscriminately simply because the alternative is far too frightening to risk.
The most compelling villains are the ones who genuinely believe that they are on the side of right and good, and the hero is simply too daft to comprehend that fact. This is one of the reasons the movie Man of Steel, annoyed me so much. While Zod wasn’t a problem here, his lieutenant, Faora-Ul actually stated, in the middle of a battle, that she had no morals and that was why it was easy for her to destroy the good guys. And here I thought it was the super strength and the ability to fly, but, actually, it was those good guys and their pesky morals that were making things easy for her!
That’s bullshit character development.
Nobody sets out to be a bad person. The only people who do are people with a void in their lives they feel can only be filled by playing the role of the heavy. And, again, you must ask why?
Aside from the writing lesson, there is something to be learned that is more valuable in the day-to-day world from this kind of evaluation. When that guy cuts you off in traffic, when your neighbor purposely puts his garbage in your driveway, when that gossipy co-worker just won’t stop telling stories about you, always try to remember – they have a life, they have a family, they have their own world and their own motivations.
Maybe you can use that to figure out a way to turn a nemesis into…somebody who doesn’t affect your life at all. Wait, did you think I was going to say friend? That outcome might be more rare than unicorns.