Friday, August 21, 2015

Villains Revisited

What I'm Writing:  Merlin Book 2 (first draft; planned to be finished by November)
                                Oz retelling (pre-writing and outlining; planned for NaNoWriMo 2015)

What I'm Reading: The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (reread)
                                The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
                                Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb (Kindle)
                                Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography
                                They Have Not Seen the Stars: The Collected Poetry of Ray Bradbury
                                Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper (audiobook; reread)

A while back I talked about villains with shallow motivation making for weak characters -- and by extension, weak stories and conflict. I finished Dune a few days ago, and it has got one of the best-written villains I've come across in a while. He's truly villainous, and odious to boot.

I'm talking about Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, of course. While he's not the biggest sandworm in the desert, he's certainly the worst. Part of what makes the Baron so cringe-worthy is that he is so indulgent that he's gone beyond being gluttonous; there's so much of him that he can't even move around unsupported by gravitational suspensors. He's capable of cutting down entire villages with a word because he's unhappy. The man has people drugged and brought to his chambers for whatever perverse enjoyments he passes the time with. And he somehow infects the impressionable members of his family with his own pride, greed, and conniving.

But Herbert doesn't simply tell you all of these details on the surface of the story. While he does dip into the Baron's mind for a few sentences here and there, Herbert tends to rely on the Baron's conversations and behavior to bring his unsettling nature to the reader's attention. He shows us the Baron's mannerisms and speech patterns around his family members, around his drugged companions, and around his subordinates in order to demonstrate the Baron's vileness.

That's something I need to practice more in my writing, and not just for my villains -- using behavior, mannerisms, small turns of phrase to reveal more of a person's character.

I'm keeping this in mind especially for my Oz retelling that I'm planning to write in November, because while many of the characters in that book are based on characters from Baum's novel, they are taking on entirely new personas for this story. I need to know them well enough to show their inside personalities on their outsides in the small ways that we all reveal ourselves to others - hand gestures, facial expressions, silences, and dialogue that we don't even realize is saying more than we think.

What are some great villains you've read lately? What little things did the authors use to make them more alive and evil?

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