Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stand Up Straight and Stop Twirling Your Mustache!

On Friday nights, I watch a DVD from either the Life or Planet Earth series.

In one very-special Planet Earth episode, walruses had to protect their babies from a hungry male polar bear. There was much roaring and gnashing of tusks and ripping of hides and blubber flying. In the end, the polar bear lost and the baby walruses survived. Music swelled and I cried because baby walruses are just so dang cute.

On another Friday, I watched a very-special Life episode that followed the hardships of a family of lions in the Namid Desert. So harsh out there, in the desert, and the lions were close to starvation. One cub died as the tribe hunted for food, another got separated from the tribe. Just when you were depressed and crying and packing a trunk of rib-eyes to send to the lions, the tribe came upon a watering hole fat with wildebeest. Glory, glory! The lions ate and their bellies filled and you didn't see their ribs and they found the lost lion club.

In one story, the hunter was the villain. In another story, the hunter was the hero.

Let's look at the second story about the lions.

The producers and writers of this particular episode wrote the narrative so that viewers would have sympathy for the meat-eaters. We wanted the lions to succeed, we understood that they were what they were -- meat-eaters -- and we wanted them to find food. The polar bear had the same needs, the same journey and as the viewer, you understood that, and it kinda sucked that the bear couldn't live off the snow, but we wanted the walrus to protect the babies.

As a novelist, you have to do that with your villains -- even if the character is the polar bear. I still FELT. I still CARED.

Gregory Maguire did the same thing in Wicked -- taking mega-villain Wicked Witch of the West and giving her the name Elphaba and making her a woman who has been wronged and discriminated against. You understood why she hated Glinda and people and on and on.

A writer must remember this:

The villain is the hero in his story. He has reasons for everything he does. The reader should care about him even if the reader doesn't care for him, dig?

Write a scene from your villain's point of view. Why is she trying to steal the MacGuffin? Why is she trying to kill the good guy? What happened to her that has made her so bitter and vindictive?

By doing this, you create a complex character, someone who isn't simply evil. The reader will feel for them even if they want the villain to lose.

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