Humanising The Heinous

2012-Feb-13 -> from the 29-days-of-fantasy department Tags:

Day 13 is a perfect day to cover a topic like today's. Taking a villain, and showing how they are, or at one time was human is a challenge for any writer. The thing about villains in fantasy settings is that often they are hard to relate to. Thus, telling their story in a way that not only makes that villain more human, and making that villain more likeable as a person is almost imperative. Carlie M. A. Cullen brings up some tips today on humanising the heinous, or making your bad guys more human.

Carlie was born in London. She grew up in Hertfordshire where she first discovered her love of books and writing. She has been an administrator and marketer all her working life and is also a professional teacher of Ballroom and Latin American dancing. Carlie has always written in some form or another, but Heart Search: Lost is her first novel.

Carlie currently lives in Essex with her daughter.

Nearly every Fantasy book I've ever read has at least one villain intent on causing as much harm or mischief as possible and while this makes for an exciting story, not every author treads the path to explore why the villain is the way he/she is. I have to wonder why this is; maybe it's because the writer is wrapped up in the emotions and back story of the protagonists, maybe they are so busy making their villain evil and plotting the next dastardly trick that they forget to look at the true character behind the evil, and maybe they just didn't think about it.

I think humanising villains gives us writers a huge amount of scope and it adds another dimension to the story. I know in some ways it's anathema for readers to want to be sympathetic towards the baddie; perhaps some re-education or a compelling scenario could change their minds.

There is a rich source of material in every day life that we can draw on to humanise our antagonists, just as we do for our protagonists and as we write in the Fantasy genre, we can put our own unique twist on each situation. Let's look at a few examples of everyday occurrences and put a different slant on them.

  • He/she was dropped on their head as a baby: you could have a lot of fun with this one! It would be beyond boring to just have them dropped on a hard floor and suffer brain damage -- what if an evil worm burrowed into their skull? What if they died and were resurrected by a demon to do evil works? What if they fell into some sort of enchanted bush/flower patch/bog/demon turd and became infected with evil?

  • He/she was abandoned by their parents: in normal life this situation would be enough to turn someone bitter. In the Fantasy realm the bitterness could morph into something evil and/or demonic. If the child was left to fend for themselves, they would be very likely to steal food to survive and from there, progress into criminal-type behaviour and associate with others of the same ilk, or worse. Alternatively, the child could be sheltered by someone with less than pure thoughts, if you catch my drift, and turn the child into something altogether unpleasant.

  • He/she was abused as a child: a large majority of abused children internalise their distress and often their displays of bad behaviour are a cry for help. In an alternate reality how far could the conduct deteriorate and corruption extend?

  • He/she was born into evil: this is quite an obvious one, but... did they ever try to escape that life? Did they develop some kind of conscience? And if so, how far did they travel on their journey for redemption before being dragged back into evil? How were they returned to the 'fold' -- a spell, a curse, physically captured, poisoned, tortured, blackmailed? There's plenty of scope to play with here.

  • The broken heart: that on its own wouldn't necessarily be enough to turn someone evil. However, if he or she had been unceremoniously dumped in a particularly unpleasant way or they had found their partner in a compromising position (perhaps not just in a 'normal' way, but with a mortal enemy or someone from a rival clan or even a demon), that could be a powerful motivation. Clichés like "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" and "revenge is a dish best served cold" can be a great basis for someone turning to the 'dark side'.

    The other side to this could be the death of a loved one (not necessarily a partner, it could be a parent or sibling). Was it murder? If so, was the murderer an existing enemy or a new one?

  • Personal gain: I'm going to use an example from a book I read recently which more than adequately demonstrates this. In the story, a shape-shifter and his brother had got trapped in a particular body and were on a desperate quest to find a 'cure'. One of the brothers was responsible for the predicament they found themselves in and suffered guilt for the jealousy that caused the mess. This brother was seduced into helping a dark lord's minion by a promise of a 'cure' as his reward. As a result he embraced evil.

Obviously, there are so many creative ways the 'personal gain' scenario could be exploited and it could lead down some interesting avenues.

These are just a few ideas of how we can take a different approach to writing about our antagonists yet there are so many more to choose from. The key thing, I think, is to open our minds to new ways of exploring our craft and using what works for us to good effect. And who knows, maybe it will open new doors and take us in fresh and exciting directions. All you have to do is take that first step over the threshold.

I'm taking that first step right now. Legacy, The Time Weaver Chronicles Book II goes back a hundred years, and tells the story of Krycin, who is considered the hero of the Lyecian war, and Gladius, who is considered the villain of the Lyecian war. The question I have to work with right now is: What if history got it wrong. Legacy tells what really happened.

Take a villain, and make them into a hero. Make them human. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Thank you, Carlie, for sharing your insights on this topic!

Come back tomorrow, when Romantic Fantasy author Marsha A. Moore brings us a Valentine's Day treat.

Thanks for reading!

I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say. Contact Me, I'd love to hear from you.

Don't forget to join in on the conversation in the comments section below.

1 Comment:

By Misa Buckley on Mon 13 Feb 2012 06:23:36 am [ Reply ] If you want to read a villain with a backstory, try Tigana. It's the only book I've read where the villain is shown to be nothing more than a flawed human being, driven to evil deeds by tragedy and circumstances. You can see it coming, and your heart bleeds for them. It was a revelation to me, and I strive to get that blending of plot and sub-plot.

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