Creating a strong villain is a requirement for effective storytelling. In middle reader and fantasy novels, the villain can make or break the story. Where would Harry Potter be without Voldemort? Here’s a look at a few of my favorite series, or stand alone, heroes and villains.
Wicked Witch of the East In both film and novel, Dorothy faces a green-skinned, spiteful, vengeful witch with conjuring powers, an army of stomping soldiers, and a battalion of flying monkeys. The flying monkeys in the movie gave me nightmares for years. The Wicked Witch is hateful, arrogant, controlling, and mean. I love her.
Maleficent Disney’s Maleficent, who features in my Kingdom Keepers novels, is also green-skinned. She’s perhaps the most like the Wicked Witch in her attributes—all of them loathsome. Maleficent often tops website picks for the “worse villain in Disney” and rarely fails to make the top five. Why are the most feared villains often women, I wonder, and typically ones with green skin? Are they our mothers? Our aunts or our grandmothers? It’s perplexing to me.
Hades Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson) and other authors chose the Devil himself as their villain, and why not? In any guise, the devil has such history in our religions and culture that the best of villains are at least second cousins. Speaking of which…
Voldemort J.K. Rowling’s Lord Voldemort is an incarnation of the devil. Smoke and mirrors. Skeletal. Malformed. Darkness personified. When in doubt, make your hero face the devil. In both the books and the films, he is one chilling enemy—and being seemingly indestructible adds to the terror.
Ombra In our Peter and the Starcatchers series, Dave Barry and I created Lord Ombra. Ombra is Italian for “shadow,” and Lord Ombra is pure shadow and darkness. By touching your shadow, he sucks out your soul—kind of like the way the Dementors inhale a soul in Harry Potter. Ombra can then control your actions. Here was a character that jumped to life for us. We started out discussing him; by the time we took to the keyboard, a richly dark villain had appeared, one we liked so much that we kept him around for the three remaining novels.
Superb villains, male and female, fantastical or human, have the ability to stop our hero from accomplishing his/her goal. Though the villain is often outwardly cruel, that’s not always the case. Some villains are conniving, calculating, and patient, but look no different from us, the readers.
Power over others is a quality that separates villains from heroes, but it’s about the way they choose to use that power, not the power itself. In The Wizard Of Oz, Glenda has enormous powers, but she chooses to use them for good. When the reader sees a villain choose bad over good, evil over compassion, that choice crosses a boundary that makes most readers fear, even hate the villain.
But not always! Some supposed villains actually win the readers’ sympathy—the Hunchback’s looks may terrorize, but to know him is to love him.
As a writer, I appreciate the multifaceted qualities of a villain; how he or she isn’t always what or who you might think; the ways good can be bad and the seemingly bad, good. This can lead to twists and turns that confuse and thrill the reader.
In the end, as the writer, you must play both parts—hero and villain—with equal conviction if you’re to tell a satisfying story. Personally, I love to slip into the dark side in front of my keyboard and let the muse begin…