As human beings, we’ve come a long way since the days of sitting in caves, marveling over fire and fighting off big things with teeth, but we have not actually evolved all that much (if we had, we wouldn’t still be telling fart jokes) – we are still creatures who quake in the night, frightened of shadows and ghosts and, yes, those big things with the teeth – Society has given us a sense of safety, but beneath the surface we are still on the lookout for danger, and that’s why in our modern world, we all want a good villain.
By that I mean a good solid Bad Guy sort of villain. This is not because we are somehow flawed and are attracted to evil things – quite the opposite – we all want to win, we want to be challenged in our adventures, including into fictional worlds, we want to be able to meet that challenge and come out of the story totally victorious and with a sense of Wow.
Society has given us protection. It just isn’t the same as living in the wilderness. I know this for a fact, I’ve done it. So, we enjoy the things we do and we bring suitable challenges into our lives.
If you really want to wrap around the challenge physically, you’ll get into sports. If you’re more after a laid-back kind of challenge, wanting to invest emotionally and intellectually rather than actually put yourself into danger, you’ll enjoy watching movies and reading books. We all do it to some degree, it’s our nature.
The point is, whatever level of challenge you want to meet, that challenge has to be good, or you’re just wasting your time. So, if you’re into fiction, the Bad Guys (or the overwhelming odds) have to work or the challenge simply isn’t there for you.
Reading a story is a personal experience. If you are not inside the plot with the characters, adding your ideas and wanting the twists and turns that show up – if you’re not right there with them, you’re not getting anything out of it. In which case, put that book down and go find something else, it is wasting your valuable time. Reading is supposed to provide a positive experience, it is not supposed to make you suffer or leave you bored. We all like excitement and reading is supposed to give you challenges you enjoy.
Being on the watch for danger is still very much in our makeup as a survival reflex. (An aside: This is why fear-mongering works so well – all through history and right up to the present day. The problem with alarmism is that a peaceful society cannot be “lead to safety” unless a monster to scare us all is seen to exist, so a monster has to be created or something familiar has to be demonized. It’s a bit of a giveaway, though, when the people screaming that they’ve found a monster are the very same people who claim to have the solution which involves handing over billions of dollars – say in research funding – and/or shifts the balance of power in their direction. This is not the sort of villain I aim to talk about here, but you get my drift. People accept fear, they accept there is something deadly out to get them, and they will quite happily panic over it if something suitably scary is presented to them, factual or not.)
We do love a good scare. More than that, we love to come out on top, to win, to be a champion, to have saved our home, our family, our town.
Of course, there are lots of different kinds of Bad Guys. Lots of different Good Guys, too. I can’t talk about characters created by other writers, I don’t feel I have the insights to dissect someone else’s work. But I can talk about my own, I can take various characters apart and analyze them and show you what makes them tick, at least for me (hopefully for you, too).
I like honesty in fiction. I like realism. While super heroes and super villains are great in a certain kind of story, I really like characters to play real and have some depth to them. I like the little things that pull in an opposing direction because each is a spark of humanity that lifts the character from the page and makes him or her a touch more real.
No one is two-dimensional and there’s no reason why fictional characters have to be, either. Nor do these characters have to be plumped up with pages and pages of their history. If it’s not important to the plot, leave it out. Readers want to recognize what a character is like, they don’t need a blow-by-blow description of how that character got to be that way unless, of course, that’s the story you are telling.
I have a lot of characters in each of my stories. I can’t say that I necessarily have more than anyone else does, but you do meet them in a non-flat way. If you have read the first book in The Khekarian Series, you realized that Sasha is an air-head and a big gorgeous nymphomaniac probably in the first paragraph of meeting her. Does it matter why? No. Just enjoy the dimples and her proportions and her cuteness and the occasional intellectual struggle.
You also learned that Sevi is intelligent and calculating and very deadly in a rip-your-spine-out kind of way. And sexy as hell. Mind you, she is not a minor character. Then again, Sasha keeps popping up, too.
I didn’t actually set them up this way to balance each other, although it might look like that going by the above paragraph. If you’ve read the story, you’ll know there are other females, each one of them unique. Jackie is the other female lead and in the Good Guy camp, but all of the characters are different from each other, from the cynical to the shy, from the practical to the obstinate. Sasha and Sevi are both extremes in their own way.
When you meet them on the page, these characters – all my characters, I hope – speak to you in ways that make them very real. You do get the sense that they are very much three dimensional, with their own foibles, likes, dislikes, reasons, wants, fears and motivations. No two are alike. Some you will like, some you won’t, but as you get to know them, you’ll probably be able to identify them just from what they say or how they say it.
This depth has to apply to lead characters, naturally, but I like a touch of it with everyone. I like characters that live and breathe.
Villains are a lot of fun, and they are interesting. There is no mistaking that in the first book of the series, The Khekarian Threat, the two strongest villains are the Khekarians travelling in Stephen’s otherwise Terran team. These two are Sturn and Sevi. He is a prince in exile and she is a soldier who bodyguards for him. They come from a savage society which is at war with the Chiddran. Khekarian ways are callous. They have slaves. They have prisoners of war they toy with and train their soldiers on. Both Sturn and Sevi have killed. They both do so easily and without much thought, neither of them seeing a problem with it. Likewise, neither has much patience nor respect for Terran ways.
To a degree, they are hard characters, yet they both have thoughts and ideas, both have feelings. They have values and a sense of purpose, and they plan for the future. These plans involve controlling one species (the Zumaridian Jshi) in order to dominate another (the Chiddran) which will eventually cause the downfall of the third (the Terrans). It’s not that they care one way or another for the war – Sturn just wants his rightful place in the Khekarian hierarchy and lots of power, and trapping an alien species with interesting potential will do it for him. He’s a villain and he has enemies he wants to squash.
Stephen is another one, a villain who – interestingly – has been pushed aside and relegated to third place as the main two Bad Guys took control of his team and his mission. He pales next to them. Perhaps his worst is that he is a bit of a mercenary and is after a quick buck. Locked into dealing with the Khekarians, he is no fan of theirs. However, if he can sell the Zumaridian alien-natives to the Khekarian war effort, he will do so. That should net him a fortune. He’s one of those Bad Guys who doesn’t take responsibility for what his sales might set in motion. To him, what happens after that is not his problem.
Despite that, he has cares. He’s been stuck with Sturn and Sevi for a decade and by now, pretty much all of his crew want them gone. He does care that he is trapped in this situation. He cares that some of his crew have died at these very Khekarian hands. He cares – but not enough to actually do anything about it. He’s a Bad Guy who is struggling. He would fight back, only he knows who Sturn is and he knows the retaliation that would come his way if he should try it, and not just from Sevi.
That’s why he doesn’t mind handing Aleisha into Khekarian control – she’s what Sturn wants and that will rid Stephen of Sturn and Sevi both. That means his team will be free once more. Trouble is, of course, that Aleisha is stubborn and doesn’t want a bar of Sturn, either. That is something Stephen can’t afford to care about, and doesn’t.
And so on and so forth. All great fun, different characters clashing for different reasons. Different motives driving different people, different levels of villainy and lots of challenges.
I like things to be real. I also like things to have a valid depth and complexity. What “problem” is ever simple? If it was simple, it wouldn’t be a problem.
Most of all, I like to see the different facets of human nature show through all of these people, Good Guys and Bad Guys and guys in between (note: all reference to guys include gals). Part of that challenge is watching different characters try different things as they apply their problem-solving. Some of their acts make the situation better, some worse. Some things work, some things don’t, and then there’s all the reactions to deal with. It’s all part of the story that, hopefully, keeps readers riveted.
As a writer, I’m as into it as any reader could be. I love the different directions that open up as I progress with a story. Part of my job as a writer is to explore possibilities and make decisions on the convolutions that crop up. As a great fan of convolutions, I am more than happy to present my readers with something dastardly intricate and complex, tweaked with a bit of fun. Sometimes I’ll choose one of these loops or tangents purely for the deliciousness of the fun-factor. What if I did put this character with this character? How can I not when the quirkiness of the match leaves me laughing or shaking my head in wonder? Once glimpsed, it would be a crime not to open the box the whole way and dig into that treasure within. Would you seriously want me not to?
I love to put that fun and that detail into a story. This is why I use the term “meaty”. Convolutions and plot intricacy might not suit everyone, but I do know that if I like a good solid read, others most certainly do, too. Why should I give you anything less than my all?
We’ve already talked about Va’el, who is a young character as yet, introduced in book two, The King’s Sacrifice. He’s already a villain at age ten, but don’t let his age fool you. He’s one to watch. He plays a main character in book three, The Bastard Line (due out later this year). What’s interesting to me is that he is already throwing in some wonderfully powerful and far-reaching convolutions. He has a future, and not a small one.
I know where he is taking me. Let’s just say it’s into dangerous waters. I’m not sure either of us should go there, as it’s going to tie a big – although interesting – knot in the story. What comes after that knot is the thing I don’t know yet. If this development plays to form, that “beyond” should go somewhere important. Some of my best characters have developed this way, advancing as I follow their lead. Va’el is talking to me, and it will probably pay to listen.
Have a great day/evening everyone.