I recently started watching a show called Hart of Dixie— and before you start judging me, I better point out that while it can be cheesy at some parts, I’m a sucker for small town, drama-filled life. Plus, I was inspired to write this post for you, so that’s a definite bonus.
What struck me as I started binging season one was the clear line between protagonist and antagonist in the first few episodes, and then the subsequent disappearance of that line. From the pilot, I was ready to hate a few characters, but as the plot progressed, so did the backstories. The actions of the antagonists suddenly seemed more… human. And I think that aspect is key when you’re writing a story, because it’s possible to develop an entirely evil villain, but how reasonable is that?
In my opinion, the goal is to write a well-rounded villain, whose backstory is tragic enough to launch them into their current, bitter state. The reader will feel both disgust at the villain’s actions and pity at their broken past. The more humanity that can be shown through the villain— subtly hinting at their deepest fear might be a good idea— the scarier they’ll become, because it means that the most normal of characters can morph into a darker version of themselves. Even the hero or protagonist is capable of this change as he/she struggles with the same flaws and yet is separated by (perhaps a flimsy) moral conscience. In Hart of Dixie, I found myself becoming thoroughly annoyed and frustrated at the protagonist because of the selfish, self-centered choices she made, while my fury towards the antagonist slowly dissipated.
Villains have fears and hopes, too. There might even be a snippet of goodness inside their soul, and who knows? Maybe that will lead to redemption, later in your story. If not, at least you’ve created a believable character for the reader (it’s always terrifying to relate to the villain).
Protagonists and heroes have flaws, too. Maybe they hide it away from everyone until it explodes, or maybe they embrace their dark side to stop the villain and complete the quest. Whatever the case, PLEASE don’t create a character that’s perfect in every way. That’s so boring to read, especially because characterization is the element in your novel that will give you an edge, a unique aspect. My mentor for my senior project told me this: when you start the story, your protagonist will be at the point in their life with the most room to grow (he/she will be the most flawed, is another way to put it).
PRO TIP: Read Leigh Bardugo’s books… she does an excellent job of developing all her characters.
Favorite villains or villain redemptions?
Favorite flawed heroes or protagnosts?
Comment down below!