What Makes A Great Villain... In My Opinion

In any story, when it comes to the characters, the first point of interest is almost always the protagonist. And yet, where would the story be without the antagonist?

Darth Vader, a layered villain (Image by ‘   Volturdu   ’ on Pixabay)

Darth Vader, a layered villain (Image by ‘Volturdu’ on Pixabay)

Back in the day, the villains would, more often than not, turn out to be cardboard, 2D caricatures who wanted nothing more than to make life difficult for the hero; who were greedy for power and/or riches; or who wanted to bring about the end of the world.

I never got that whole ‘end of the world’ thing – without the world or humanity, what’s left for the villain? Unless you’re Thanos, it doesn’t make much sense.

When I first watched ‘Star Wars’ all those years ago – I’m talking ‘A New Hope’ – I thought Darth Vader, for all his powers and presence was not much more than the average, run-of-the-mill villain. It was only in ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, when he uttered the now-immortal line – ‘I am your father’ – did I realise there was so much more to him and I couldn’t wait to learn more. Not long into the third film, ‘Return of the Jedi’, I was actually feeling for him, wanting him to reconcile with Luke, wanting Luke to give him a chance.

Despite the somewhat clunky writing and jarring plot turns over the whole ‘Star Wars’ saga, Darth Vader, for me, is one of the best antagonists ever written.

For an antagonist to be believable, for him to be a fitting counter to a well-written protagonist and to drive the story forward, he cannot exist purely as a 2D character. No one is purely good or totally evil; everyone has it in them to be both. ‘Bad’ people aren’t the only ones who do ‘bad things’; ‘good’ people do ‘bad things’ too.

I believe the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ are basically flip sides of the same coin. The most obvious example, for me, is Batman and The Joker.

Batman (Image by    Ralph Leonard Poon    on Pixabay)

Batman (Image by Ralph Leonard Poon on Pixabay)

When their behaviour and reasoning are stripped right down, there’s very little to choose between them. I wonder, sometimes, if that’s why they come across as so obsessed with one another.

Joker (Image by    Ralph Leonard Poon    on Pixabay)

Joker (Image by Ralph Leonard Poon on Pixabay)

Another good example is Charles Xavier and Magneto in the ‘X-Men’. The line dividing their points of view is a very thin one. I think the only thing that sets them apart is their actions – for Magneto, the end very much justifies the means regardless of who gets caught in the line of fire, whereas for Charles, if the price is too high, he always looks for another way, no matter how hard or impossible it may seem.

Just like the protagonist, I believe the best antagonist is someone who is real. Someone who may not necessarily have started out villainous; maybe something happened to make her choose to do ‘bad things’. Maybe it’s something to do with anger, fear, heartbreak, a misplaced sense of honour. Maybe the only reason she caused the deaths of countless people was because she was desperate to save the life of someone she loved.

The best antagonist, I think, is someone who, despite their ‘bad’ ways, can also be funny, kind, interesting. Someone whom the reader finds possible to understand, even if only a little. Someone who has flaws, as we all do… someone human.

5 Things That Help Inspire My Writing

When I’m writing – either starting a new story or working on an existing one – it’s seldom I can just pick up my pencil and start writing. I usually need something to kickstart me into motion.

So, I thought I’d list 5 things that help get me started and inspire me to keep going.

Image by    Engin_Akyurt    (Pixabay)

Image by Engin_Akyurt (Pixabay)

The first thing is a hot drink, usually coffee. But it’s only ever the one cup. I limit myself to 2 cups of coffee a day; more than that and I start to feel ill. I used to be able to drink loads back in my college days until I pulled a couple of all-nighters and practically had an IV drip of coffee. I ended up being sick and had to stay off coffee for a while. I have drunk more than a couple of cups over the years before finally realising my limit and sticking to it. I usually have the second cup in the evening. Anyway, after that first cup of coffee, I alternate between hot water and tea. The main thing is, so long as I have a hot drink to hand, I’m fine.

Image by    Niek Verlaan    (Pixabay)

Image by Niek Verlaan (Pixabay)

Music goes a long way in keeping the creative juices pumped. But it has to be classical. And specific classical. Brahms’ ‘Violin Concerto in D Major’ and his ‘Piano Concerto No.2 in B-flat Major’ – I have no idea why, but these two pieces have never failed to produce pretty well written scenes. Beethoven does wonders for me too. And when it comes to action/fast-paced scenes, Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’ does the trick. Lately, I’ve found most pieces by ‘Two Steps from Hell’ work well too, usually when I’m editing.

My ‘   Magic-Inspiration   ’ Pinterest board

My ‘Magic-Inspiration’ Pinterest board

Images from my research help spark my writing when I feel a bit stuck. It could be to do with clothing or architecture or scenery. I save some in a picture folder on the computer and I also make Pinterest boards. But there is danger in perusing my Pinterest boards – getting sucked into Pinterest and ‘forgetting’ that I’m actually supposed to be writing!

‘Genius’ writing. Whenever I’ve come across, what I feel, is wonderful bits of writing, I copy them out in one of my writing notebooks. Reading them inspires me to keep going, to stretch my writing mindset, if that makes sense.

Snippets of ‘genius’ writing from one of my notebooks

Dancing. When I feel I’m struggling with the writing, when I’m feeling stale, or just plain old crabby, I realise it’s because I’ve been sat for too long. I used to just generally move around before deciding it’s more fun to put some upbeat music on and just dance. Literally dance like no one’s watching because I make sure no one is watching. Except the cats, and they just ignore me. Or retire to a safe space, like a chair.

Whether you’re a writer or not, do you have specific things that keep you going when you’re working on a project?

Why I Choose to Write Fantasy/Fairy Tale Retellings

I can’t remember the very first story I ever read or that was read to me. But I’m 99.9% sure it was a fairy tale.

My current collection of fairy tales

My current collection of fairy tales

I remember various collections of Grimm fairy tales and those of Hans Christian Andersen on bookshelves at home.

Grimms’s Fairy Tales
Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales

The author who featured greatly in my growing-up years was Enid Blyton. Whatever the controversy surrounding her actual life, as a child, all I cared about was the fun stories she told. My favourite has to be ‘The Enchanted Wood’ series. Climbing to the very top of the Faraway Tree always revealed a new land to be discovered, but I especially liked the folk who inhabited the tree.

I’m pretty sure I read most, if not all, the books in the ‘Famous Five’ series. And the books set in the boarding school, ‘Malory Towers’, made me yearn to go to boarding school, which seemed to be more about having adventures than actual studying!

Apart from Western fairy tales and stories, I also read comic-book versions of Hindu mythological tales. I’d amassed a hefty collection of comic books, all to do with my favourite deities and tales, which I’d brought with me to England when I came here to study. I made the mistake of lending them to a friend over the summer holidays one year back in the 1980s, and never saw her or my comics again. By then, the comics weren’t that easy to find, and I’ve never been able to rebuild that collection. That’s one of the reasons I’m so fussy about who I lend my favourite books to now.

So, moving past my Enid Blyton years, I gravitated towards books in the Fantasy genre. It seemed a natural progression from fairy tales.

Books I’ve read and a couple I’ve yet to read

Books I’ve read and a couple I’ve yet to read

Also, my imaginary playtime growing up (and beyond) has always included some fantastical element even if it was set in the real world.

When I started to toy with the idea of writing my own story, it was purely as a way to alleviate the mind-numbing boredom of being stuck behind the till in a quiet part of the shop I was working in at the time. Honestly, sometimes more than an hour would pass before I’d see a customer wander past.

Another reason I started to write was I wanted to read a story that either finished in one book or was no longer than a trilogy. Back then, any fantasy book I picked up was at least a trilogy, each book the size of a weighty doorstop, or longer. So, I thought I’d write the story I wanted to read.

I don’t remember making a conscious decision about writing fantasy, but that’s the story that started to take shape.

Thinking back on the early versions of what would eventually become ‘The Cursed Gift’, I cringe. It was so unbelievably bad, full of cliché and embarrassingly turgid. It morphed into a trilogy with a plot that resembled a tentacled monster. Basically, I’d thrown in all my favourite ideas, but failed to cohesively bind them together.

At the time, I didn’t think I had another story in me, so kept going back to it. I lost count of the number of drafts I wrote and rewrote. The first version was written in 1990 and I eventually self-published the first edition in 2006; my main reason for doing so – to show my mum before she passed.

I was proud of that version. Until I re-read it sometime later after I’d gained more writing knowledge. Oh, my gawd!! I was horrified. I wanted nothing more than to pull the book from Amazon, but it couldn’t be done.

By this time, I was working on my next story. What a delight, to realise I had another story in me! But I kept revisiting ‘The Cursed Gift’, I couldn’t help myself. Anyway, long story short – pardon the pun – I rewrote it, tightened it up, jettisoned as much cliché as possible and republished the second edition with a better cover. Overall, it was now something I was happy and satisfied with.

Reworking ‘The Cursed Gift’

Reworking ‘The Cursed Gift’

My second book, ‘The Moon Goddess’, is another fantasy story. I was thinking of making it into a series but couldn’t think where to take it so left it as a standalone. Having said that, since then, I’ve come up with some story ideas involving a couple of the characters, so may yet make it into a series. But I want each book to be a stand-alone.

Well, that was a bit of a digress! Back to the topic…

As I wondered what to write next, I turned to fairy tales. Certain aspects of certain fairy tales had always left me thinking – Sleeping Beauty being awakened by ‘true love’s kiss’ and then happily marrying the prince even though he was a complete stranger; why the giant was punished in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ when all he was doing was protecting his property from the thief, Jack…

By now, I’d realised there was such a thing as ‘fairy tale retelling’. So, I thought I’d explore those things that bothered me, and tackled the Sleeping Beauty story first, which became my third book, ‘The Spellbound Spindle’.

Alexander Zick’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’

Alexander Zick’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’

The book I’m working on now, ‘The Raven and Other Tales’, is a collection of fairy tale/folk tale retellings and a couple of original tales, still with a fantastical bent.

The stories that I have waiting to be written are either fantasy or fairy tale retellings. I find them ‘easy’ to write, they seem to flow naturally once I come up with ideas/plot details.

Notes from one of the stories in ‘The Raven and Other Tales’

Notes from one of the stories in ‘The Raven and Other Tales’

Having said that, I’d like to try my hand at historical fiction as I love history. Every time I read a historical fiction novel, I’m itching to write something based on history.

So, why haven’t I? Well, first, I’d probably get so lost in the research, they’ll have to send an expedition to retrieve me.

But it’s the second point, which stops me every time. In historical fiction, at some point, the fictional characters are going to interact with actual people who lived back in the day. Or, the characters around which the story revolves could, themselves, be based on actual people. And therein lies my problem. To imagine or reimagine actual people’s lives scares me as I worry if I’ll do them justice. I guess I don’t have the confidence to believe I’m skilled enough to do it well.

Never say never, as they say; who knows what might transpire in the future? For now, though, I’ll carry on with fantasy/fairy tale retellings as I have enough stories waiting to be written.