My topic today is about the villains. The low-down dirty, I-can’t-believe-they-said-that, the people we love to hate bad guys/girls that can make or break a story. Yeah, them.
As much as romance readers root for the hero and heroine, you’ve got to admit, deep down, there’s something about the antagonist that makes the heart pitter-pat. Why? Not because we’re in love with the bad guys (although I will freely admit there have been some that I wished would have given the hero a bit more fight) it’s just because they’re so dang bad that we can’t wait to see what else they’ll do. How difficult will they make it for the hero/heroine to get together? Will they really kill Our Hero? (although, in recent days I’ve been irritated the villains have plenty of time to kill the hero but they waste it by talking about how they’ll kill them. Just do it already!) But that’s a post for another day…
When I first dabbled in romance writing, I was still a fresh-faced, bright eyed kid in school, content to entertain my fellow students with my scribbles in many, many notebooks. I had a creative writing teacher in high school who once said “Your hero is only as good as your villain.” Back then, I was like sure, whatever, villains can’t be good—that’s why they’re villains not heroes. But later on as my writing evolved and I learned I didn’t know all I thought I knew back then, those words returned to me.
And what is more? That teacher was right.
You see, a hero can’t stand on his own. He needs someone bigger and badder than he to create conflict, add drama, and be an all-around pain in the butt so the reader wants the bad guy vanquished and the hero to prevail. On the other side of the coin, a villain can’t exist without the good guy, otherwise, all his oozing underhandedness has nowhere to go. Sure, the villain has minions, but minions have agendas of their own and they’re a dime a dozen to a really good villain.
So, the better you write the villain, the better your hero will look when he defeats the supreme pain. Whether the Ultimate Problem in your novel is a demon lord, a mad scientist, a thwarted lover, or a mentally deranged killer, it doesn’t matter. These people have one goal: to stop your hero from reaching his HEA. The more roadblocks the Ultimate Problem creates, the more the reader will root for the hero.
Because every one of us has an Ultimate Problem to deal with in our own lives. Annoying relatives, delinquent mortgages, crappy job, broken-down car, sickness, bullies, whatever it is, you can bet it needs vanquishing. The stakes are high and will probably rise higher, but when the rubber meets the road, we are the heroes in our own tales and we will beat the Ultimate Problem—our villain. There is no other option. Do it or die. Fight and die free.
Readers aren’t stupid and neither are authors. When we write, we pour our heart and soul into the story. We’re wordsmiths, story-tellers, and anthropologists, but we also infuse the books with a little truth. The villain in a story can always represent whatever is going on in the author or reader’s life, and we always want the hero—the author or reader—to win. We quest for the happily ever after that sometimes we don’t have in our own lives but we want desperately.
And if reading books can make us braver, even for a tiny minute, then more power to all of us. So, ladies and gentlemen, feel free to take up your imaginary sword and slay that make-believe dragon. Empower yourself with the fantasy and maybe, just maybe, the villains in our real life won’t seem so scary after all.
Thanks for reading! Hope to see you back here next Wednesday.