Constructing Evil, random thoughts on

You must have a villain, but he/she/them must be a believable villain. You can’t toss all their motivations into a bin labeled “Desire for World Domination” and expect the reader to take them seriously, unless you are writing a James Bond flick.

On the other hand, if you make your villain human and believable, readers may start rooting for them instead. In the early drafts of Matcher Rules, several of my test readers fell in love with Maxim Bari. I solved this by re-writing Max to be more selfish and manipulative, but also by adding on another villain who manipulated Max. He was after World Domination also, but he was scummy from the beginning so no one complained.

Of course, if you have a story where the evil/good is shared by the hero and the villain you may not be writing genre fiction but modern literature. This may not qualify as a fate worse than death (discuss among yourselves) but it’s not where I want to go.

One of the nice things about villains is they can start small and grow into it as they reward themselves with the spoils of their acts. Each outrage builds on the last, so by the time the hero chops them into sushi the reader can, with a whole heart, cheer from the sidelines.

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Mary Holland

Mary Holland writes alternative-world fantasy for grown-ups. Her books include Matcher Rules, The Bone Road, and The Dog of Pel. She lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains with three cats and an ever-changing assortment of wildlife.

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