Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Villains: Color them Dark and Dastardly, part 1

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 23•16

Yesterday I used dastardly twice in the same day. I’m calling it a good day, but then the topic of  villains brings about our darkest imaginings and  lurid vocabulary terms. On Sunday, I was part of a panel at Wizard World ComicCon talking about villains. The talk was lively, the audience engaged and the minutes flew past.

Here are some ideas to follow up on that discussion. If you’ve been reading or watching dramas for the past 10 or 20 years you likely realize that villains are becoming increasingly complex, nuanced, and fascinating. It’s why old-time Westerns can seem hokey and most John Wayne movies flat. It’s not just Wayne’s one-note delivery–it’s sometimes the cardboard bad guys he’s up against.

Begin with a potent and memorable name.   Names are powerful tools. Used correctly, they’ll invisibly support your story, enhancing and underlining your plot and themes. The best villain names have firepower. An unsympathetic villain’s name should reflect menace, coldness, and/or strength.  Think Gollum, Darth Vader, the Borg. Not exactly the names you’d find in a baby names book.

Look into the meanings and the history of those who’ve shared theSnape name, so you can subtly enrich your story by choosing names that are a commentary or secret clue to the action.  You just know they’re on the wrong team. S sounds as in Snape suggest something slithery and shivery.  The Borg sounds like a collective nightmare. James Moriarty sounds like both a worthy nemesis and a professor. Morgoth sounds evil.  You might want to choose hard consonant sounds like K or unusual names like Xykon from The Order of the Stick.

Hannibal Lecter Silence of the LambsCreate a potent and deliberate physical presence. Think of the uber creepy Hannibal Lecter played by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs films. By the time Agent Clarice Starling creeps to his cell in the Baltimore  State Hospital for the Criminally Insane we’re scared along with her. And there stands Lecter: unnaturally pale, erect, sniffing the air at her scent. An eerie stillness about him. That awful jumpsuit.  A liver-eating, Chianti-drinking cannibal.Let the games begin!

Your villain’s first impression on the reader is do or die. GollumUnderstand if your aim is to terrify the reader or foreshadow villainy to come.  How does he slide onto the page the first time? In disguise?  Raring for a fight? Without warning?

White WitchWhat are your villain’s main personality traits? These traits will create the foundation for your character and will be put to work in the story. They should be evident in every scene and the first time we meet him, her, or it. These traits will be put to work in the story. A criminal mastermind needs to be intelligent, cunning and ruthless.  Jadis the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis is beautiful, proud, cruel, and possesses a smoldering rage.

More to come…..because villains create and demonstrate story conflict. Chaos follows in their wake. 

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