A few times per week, I offer unsolicited writing advice to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, I even follow it myself.
If you ask me, ‘Who is your favorite character in your novel, The Broken Haven?’ you might be surprised to learn the answer. It’s not my good-natured, modern day Alice-in-Wonderland, Eleanor, and it’s not my dashing male lead, Phillip. And while I found a lot of joy in writing the blundering, clumsy Howard, it’s not him either.
No, my favorite character to write and develop for that particular story was none other than the dark, spiteful, and petty Celia, the villain of Nettleton.
Gosh, I love a villain. Not only do they add a driving force of maliciousness to your story, but they’re so much fun to create. From the way they introduce themselves, to describing their lair, to picturing clothes they wear (think Cruella DeVille in her Dalmatian coat or The Joker in his purple suit), writing a villain is a task I most look forward to.
But a good villains has to have more than an iconic outfit, even though it definitely helps add to their schtick. Villains need two things above all else: a backstory and a weakness. This brings me to my tip, a way to effortlessly combine those two things into one:
Tip #2: Give your villain a love interest
Celia was a dark-haired beauty with a special hatred for the main character in my novel. I loved giving her snappy, cutting, sometimes straight-up rude commentary. But what made her more interesting was her soft spot for my male lead. Phillip was her weakness. By giving her a love interest, it added dimension and humanity to Celia, so she wasn’t just a raging bitch with a pretty face. Even villains aren’t immune to crushes. It also gave me an easy way to develop her backstory, since she’d been harboring those loving feelings for many years. Suddenly, she wasn’t just bitter; she was heartsick. I feel like it made her a relatable, complex character with shades of gray to explore.
Losing a love interest can also fuel your villain to seek revenge or take a turn for the worse. A perfect example of this is Sweeney Todd, though he does serve as both the antagonist and protagonist of his story. Sweeney’s entire driving force is to seek revenge for the death of his wife, Joanna. This causes him to go mad and kill a bunch of people, including the judge who was initially responsible for Joanna’s demise. Interestingly enough, Judge Turpin also has a love interest in the play. Complex characters all around!
What are some of your favorite books or plays that have a villain-in-love? Let me know in the comments below!
For last week’s writing tip, click here.