[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to have author Sara B. Larson guest posting on the site today. She’s talking all things villains…and why we love to hate them. Take it away, Sara!]
In all of the best stories—the ones that stick with us, that linger in our memories and entice us to want to revisit them again and again—there are a few commonalities. Perhaps a tightly woven, exciting plot, or settings that drip with decadent detail. Most definitely dynamic characters that are interesting and relatable. Yes, all of the characters. Even the villain.
It has been said your hero can only be as strong as they are in correlation to the strength of their opponent. Hence, if your villain is weak, your protagonist will be as well. And I’m not talking about needing to make your mean girl or bad boy go do some more bicep curls at the gym. (Or throw a few more axes if it’s fantasy and gyms are few and far between.) I’m talking about strength in their character development.
I’m sure most aspiring or published authors have heard the adage “everyone is the hero of their own story” by now, but it’s shared often because it’s true. When you are creating your antagonist, you need to know their backstory, their motives, their dreams and goals, just as well as you know your protagonist’s. To make a villain strong, dynamic and truly fascinating, you have to be able to understand why they think what they’re doing is right—why their actions are justified in their minds. It might take a lot of time for the reasons to be brought to light, or you may not ever show all of it in your books, but you—as the author—must know them, and use that knowledge to shape your villain’s choices and actions so that they are not only believable (at least on some level), but also cohesive throughout your story.
One example of a truly amazing villain was Minya from Strange the Dreamer and Muse of Nightmares. She is formidable, terrifying, powerful, and unhinged—but also loyal, fierce, desperate, and hurting. As we come to know her story throughout both books, your thoughts and feelings toward her go through drastic upheavals as you realize all this little girl endured in her quest to save others and what it did to shape and twist her into what she became.
Another example is Cardan from The Cruel Prince. All of the characters in this series are nuanced and none are all good or all bad. Some are worse (or better) than others, but they are all very complicated. And Cardan is one of the most complex of all. He is so cruel and so awful…and yet we get these intoxicating glimpses that maybe there is another side to him. Similarly to Minya, the deeper we delve into his history and story, the more we understand why he is the way he is and if there is any hope for him to become the Fae Prince we’re all wishing he could be.
The Darkling is another fantastic example of a villain who is complex and nuanced. When he says “the problem with wanting is it makes us weak” in Shadow and Bone, it gave us a hint of the darkness inside him, but it also made me a little weak in the knees. He was complex and tortured and awful and enticing. By the time we come to the conclusion of his story, you are truly torn on whether you hate him or not, and feel a shocking amount of empathy for what he became. A truly brilliant villain from Leigh Bardugo.
In my own stories, I have experimented with many different types of villains. But one common thread was that I knew the motives they all had for what they did, and I understood their reasonings for why they felt justified in their (sometimes horrific) actions. Whether it was a king who ruled through fear because that was what his father taught him to do through terrible abuse as a child (Defy); or a Prince of Winter who was forced into a path he despised or risk his life, until he finally found a way to break free of his father’s reign of terror—though it cast him as the very villain he secretly hated (Dark Breaks the Dawn). I don’t want to spoil anything in Sisters of Shadow and Light and Warriors of Wing and Flame, but the antagonist was also shaped by an influence during childhood that set that person on a path that they otherwise wouldn’t have ever pursued.
If you’re looking to increase the tension and take your plots up a level, make sure your villains are as dynamic, strong, and complex as possible, and you will take your story from good to great.
About the Author:
Sara B. Larson is the bestselling and critically acclaimed author of the YA fantasy Defy trilogy and the Dark Breaks the Dawn duology. She can’t remember a time when she didn’t write books—although she now uses a computer instead of a Little Mermaid notebook. Sara lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband, their four children, and their Maltese, Loki. You can learn more at www.SaraBLarson.com or follow her on social media @SaraBLarson.
Warriors of Wing and Flame by Sara B. Larson, out October 27!
In this spellbinding sequel to Sisters of Shadow and Light, acclaimed author Sara B. Larson continues her timeless tale of the bond between two sisters and the powerful magic that threatens to tear them apart forever.
The doorway between the magical world of the Paladin and the human world where sisters Zuhra and Inara grew up in isolation is open once more. But the joyous reunion with their Paladin father is shattered when a treacherous sorcerer attacks Inara, stealing her power for himself. Now nearly invincible and determined to rule over both Paladin and human alike, he will let nothing stand in his way.
Armed only with the power of love, courage, and sacrifice, two sisters must bridge the divide between worlds to confront the unspeakable evil that threatens to destroy everything―and everyone―they love.