• NaPoWriMo Interview: Winston on Villains and Antagonists


    The last day of NaPoWriMo is upon us! We've got one last interview to conduct and guidelines on how to submit your word count. The devilishly excellent fandom writer Winston is here to talk about villains and antagonists! What goes into writing them, what makes them compelling, and more!

    Get the diabolical details down below.



    MARVEL: So, Winston, I think my first question would have to be what makes a compelling villain or antagonist to you? How do you write one?

    WINSTON: The most important thing that makes a villain or antagonist compelling to me is motive. Like any character, their motivations need to be believable. They need to be something that can be understood and related to. 

    That can be really tricky with villains, because most people don't see themselves as villains. It's tough to write a villain as someone just knowingly and callously doing evil and expect that to get a lot of reader buy-in. 

    Villains are never villains in their own story; they always have some sort of rationale for why they think what they're doing is right, or if not exactly right, maybe just the least-bad option available. The compelling villain or antagonist to me is the one that the writer has examined sufficiently for us to understand how we might have made the same villainous or antagonistic choices if we were put in their position. 

    That's the approach I try to take to writing a villain, because that's what I think creates reader engagement by really offering something to explore. A good villain in literature should have something to teach us, namely, what might we ourselves do in certain circumstances?



    MARVEL: I see what you're saying. So, then, what do you think about tragic backstories? Does a villain always need one, and if not, how can we write a villains' perspective in such a way that their actions seem justified (at least to them)?

    WINSTON: I don't think a villain always needs a tragic backstory - somewhat the contrary, a tragic backstory can seem a bit trite if it's not done carefully, since villains written that way abound in fiction.

    To me, one of the best ways to write a villain with convincing justifications is to remember the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

    That is, people don't usually set their sights on an ultimate end that they would consider evil at the outset; it's more of a series of small decisions, with small compromises that each individually seem like acceptable trade-offs at the time, cumulatively leading to a course of action that feels like it was inevitable, even while it was obviously an avoidable choice from a more distant perspective capable of seeing the whole picture at once. 

    It's watching the villain get lost and not be able to see the forest for the trees - that resonates, I think, because we ourselves are often forced to admit that we might do the same thing if we found ourselves lost in those same woods and sorely tempted to make small compromises that seem harmless at the time. It's difficult to always stick to the most principled course, and I think people feel that. 

    We've all done something we're not proud of, because it was just one little thing that won't really matter. We all know how it easy it is to justify "just this once" in our mind at the time. And we all know how it gets out of control on us eventually.


    MARVEL: Are there different ways to write different kinds of villains?

    There will be differences in the details you may choose to focus on when writing different villains, often depending on the needs of the story, but beneath the surface I think the fundamental conceptual process is about the same. 

    A good villain comes back to being a compelling villain, and the way to make a villain compelling is to create that reader buy-in. To do this, you need to be convincing - that is, convince the reader that, yes, this is something a person in this position might actually do. 

    In some cases, this may be relatively easy (if the villain is a person more or less like you, then often you can "write what you know" by putting yourself in that villain's shoes and imagining how things play out), but other times it might take a lot of research (for example, villains with abnormal or pathological psychology, eg., sociopaths). But whatever the case, my feeling is that it always comes back to convincing the reader that your execution is confident and authentic.



    MARVEL: 
    We've certainly seen a slew of villains in the show that reflect certain parts of our main characters in warped ways. How does the villain relate to the hero?

    There are many ways hero and villain can relate to each other, and it's different in different stories. But the way they should relate to each other is in whatever way is needed to create the conflict you want your story to be about. 

    That's important: choose the right villain for the story. 

    Villains as warped images of heroes are useful and popular because they often force the hero to confront parts of themselves, which is great for character-building. Because of this, stories intended to be character-driven can benefit a lot from villains that relate to the hero by holding up a mirror to them. 

    On the other hand, if you want to do something like explore a conflict between disparate cultures, you might want the hero and the villain to be so unlike each other that they're mutually incomprehensible and neither sees anything of themselves in their counterpart. In a case like this, the hero and villain may relate to each other by presenting each other with challenging mysteries, basically being aliens from each other's perspectives. 

    These two examples, the mirror and the alien, are very much opposite ends of a wide spectrum of possibilities, and there's all kinds of varying degrees and ways of relating in-between. Again, the key is to choose the villain (and the hero, and the ways the two relate to each other) to set up the conflicts you want your story to be about.

    Marvel: Thanks for the insight, Winston!

    And with that diabolically delightful interview completed, that just about wraps it up for NaPoWriMo! We only have one post left: the results.

    Now, last week I gave you a peek at what the submission guidelines are, but check them out one last time here:

    After 11:59 P.M. on November 30th (tonight, blog time), you'll be given 24 hours to submit the following information:

    • Your author name
    • Your story title/titles
    • Original Word Count Goal (I have it on file, but this is just a precaution to make sure)
    • Your Total Word Count for November
    • A link to either your story/stories that you worked on in November
      • OR
    • A link to your profile/website/blog/wherever you post your stories
    Just like last time, all this info will be sent to [email protected] Send in any questions to that email as well! Good luck, everybody!