Monday, March 9, 2015

Give Us A Villain!

Peter Leavell
Adversity coaxes out a hero’s character. I spend more time devising deviltry for my novels than I do working on morals and quotable lines. Why?

Because a story hinges on villains. Your scalawag, your blackguard, your varlet is just as important as your hero.

Credit: PhotoDune.net
Gone are the days when a Zane Grey, black hatted, thin lipped, beady-eyed man with evil intent carries the role of anti-hero. Readers need the knave’s motives. In a strange twist, they want to see themselves in the bad guy, and when they do, they’re terrified. Can a hero overcome the evil? If the hero can succeed, the reader can. The reader is filled with hope that they can overcome what they see in the desperado.

The hero is only as good as the villain is evil. That’s when the hero’s character is tested. Your hero can be the most amazing person ever known, but if he has nothing to test his limits, then the reader doesn’t know his or her full character.

How evil should the monster be? How about so evil that people call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, as is Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series? Can a boy overcome such evil? That level of nastiness makes Harry Potter and his friends look all the more amazing. And many a teacher has heard children say if Harry could overcome evil, so can I.

Does Atticus Finch fight a physical villain in To Kill a Mockingbird?  No. The rapscallion in this case is social injustice that's so overpowering it crushes a small family. And Atticus’s character development comes through, and he teaches generations of readers “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” Without evil, we wouldn’t know Atticus Finch.

In my novel, Gideon’s Call, real life character Laura Towne, a cosmopolitan girl in the Civil War North, gives up everything she owns to teach freed slaves in the South. She battles discouragement and frustration as she weighs whether to stay and continue to teach or return home. Despite the hardships around her, she is her own enemy. Pride and Prejudice carries a similar vein, where each of the characters must overcome themselves and societal norms to find happiness. Both are rascals, and enemies to each other, in a non life-threatening way.

Credit: PhotoDune.net
In Gary Paulsen’s book, Hatchet, a boy crashes in the Alaskan wilderness. What can one boy, alone and hopeless, do to survive? The miscreant in this case is nature. As it attacks, the boy’s character shows. And if the lad can do it, so can we.


Many names for villains abound—because wrongdoers come is many forms. Without a good villain, you can’t coax out the hero’s character. Spend time forming a malefactor, and see what you’re champion can do. Because your reader is looking for hope. And the worse your villain is, the more hope you bring.
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Peter Leavell is an award winning historical fiction author. He and his family research together, creating magnificent adventures. Catch up with him on his website at www.peterleavell.com, or friend him on Facebook: Peter R. Leavell. 
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Coming in April
Philip Anderson keeps his past close to the vest. Haunted by the murder of his parents as they traveled West in their covered wagon, his many unanswered questions about that night still torment him. 
His only desire is to live quietly on his homestead and raise horses. He meets Anna, a beautiful young woman with secrets of her own. Falling in love was not part of his plan. Can Philip tell her how he feels before it’s too late?
With Anna a pawn in the corrupt schemes brewing in the nearby Dakota town, Philip is forced to become a reluctant gunslinger. Will Philip’s uncannily trained horses and unsurpassed sharpshooting skills help him free Anna and find out what really happened to his family in the wilderness?
 April 2015

6 comments:

  1. You made some great points for focusing on the villain, Peter. Well said! Or may I should say ... well written! :-D

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  2. Great post, Peter! I love the idea of using the villain as contrast for the hero/heroine. Here's to giving our readers hope as our MCs overcome.

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  3. Great thoughts on "the villain," Peter. It makes me feel better about the terror in my latest ms!

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    1. You write AWESOME villains, Elaine! Keeps me up at night!!!

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