In almost every good fantasy story, I sympathize with the villain in some way. Or just outright adore him. Note that I said good fantasy story; in many books, unfortunately, you may find a villain/antagonist who does bad things because… you know, just because apparently, his moral compass broke when he/she was a fetus or something.
When I’d started writing, it was definitely a problem. I dedicated all my planning and character building to my protagonists and then, after trying to write the story, I spent hours wondering why it seemed like a crappy piece of fanfiction. It took me a long time, lots of writing AND reading as well as a bunch of Limyaael’s fantasy rants to get that no, my antagonists didn’t have to be soulless individuals who existed just to spawn their EVUL on the world.
After all, some of my favorite characters are antagonists.
Anakin Skywalker. Corrupted? Sure. Selfish? Uh-huh. Relatable? Definitely.
Another instance is the wonderful novel by Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana. There, a bunch of rebels try to overthrow Brandin of Ygrath, who used to magic to erase the very memory of a province named Tigana (because they’d killed his son). I as a reader understand that this is bad, yes. He essentially destroyed a whole nation… but he came across as more likable than the obvious protagonists. His character is built perfectly, his motives are clear and relatable, and he is very charismatic. Kudos for that.
And finally, my favorite of all favorites. The eventual antagonist of the Chronicles of Amber tries to literally destroy the world and remake it in his own image. He is arrogant, power-hungry and mad. But the few descriptions of him from the viewpoint character, the several pages I had to get acquainted with him ‘personally’ were enough to make me fall in love with him and sympathize with him until the very end.
So what I try to do with my ‘villains’ (although I try not to have those and am more in favor of antagonists with their own motives, it’s sometimes unavoidable because evil is needed, lol) is I get into their heads and figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing. The novel I’m working on right now has to have a finale where the antagonist tries to kill billions, if not trillions, of people, and although he is under the influence of a power which makes him mad, I couldn’t attribute his actions solely to this force.
So yesterday, I sat down and wrote his speeches to the people he would be rallying to support his evil cause. In this essay manner, sort of like free writing, I’d discovered so much about his childhood, his career, his motives and ultimately, I figured out how he persuades the masses to follow him. I will admit I was inspired by Donald Trump’s persuasive skills and thus got my own practice at writing populist messages. And it was a great experience. Have I mentioned how much I love writing?
Do you have any particular way in creating and refining your antagonists? Do you sympathize with them in any way? Do you have any favorite antagonists from fantasy books/films/TV shows?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!