In the last part of this series, we’ll take a look at the anatomy of a bad guy – all the things that make a bad guy ‘bad’.
The life we’ve lived shapes who we are in the present, so it’s inevitable that incidents in the past will affect how your antagonist sees the world, and how they deal with the problems life throws at them. Just as in real life, some people can be nasty and horrible to others, while others are subversive and shifty – but whoever they are, they will have reasons for their behaviour. And those reasons drive them through the story, they provide character motive.
So what might be those reasons?
The antagonist has a personal problem with the protagonist, be in in the past or in the present, something that triggers the catalyst of actions that course through the story. Perhaps the protagonist did something to make the antagonist angry, and that rage is exacerbated by the protagonist’s actions.
Secrets and Lies
Antagonists always have plenty to hide, things that could lead to varying consequences if anyone found out; be them secrets, lies, deceit or certain weaknesses that the bad guy doesn’t want the good guy to discover, for fear of being exploited. No one likes to be seen as weak, after all.
Sometimes a child’s upbringing can have a measured effect on their behaviours in adulthood. That’s not to say that disadvantaged kids become monsters, because the majority don’t. But there are those who will have suffered in childhood, perhaps through neglect or abuse, and if those traumas are not dealt with, then the children sometimes carry those physical and emotional scars into their adulthood where they have to find alternative outlets to let go of those repressed emotions or anger, where certain behaviours develop because of personality and mental disorders, on top of those learned during childhood.
Influences & Experiences
Most people are impressionable. Most people are influenced by a lot of things – mostly positive ones. But there are occasions where people are exposed to negative influences, which are learned or copied, therefore bad experiences can also have a negative effect on the antagonist.
These are reason enough to shape who they are.
That’s just a few reasons why your bad guy might be bad, but there are also certain traits that bad guys have that writers should take note of, especially from a behavioural point of view.
These traits are what build a bad guy’s anatomy – they are traits that we recognise in real people, since some people can be one or many of those listed. We’ve all come across the spiteful type, the manipulative type, the unbalanced type, the insecure type...These are the things that bad guys are made of.
Universally recognised bad guy traits:-
- Manipulative or Machiavellian
- Spiteful, resentful
- Angry and unable to control themselves
- Sociopathic or psychopathic
- Crazy/ mentally unbalanced
- Unhappy/detached or depressed
- Under the influence of drugs
- Manipulated by someone else
- Evil, plain and simple.
Bad guys are multifaceted and complex, because of the many characteristics they exhibit. In other words, there isn’t simply one thing that makes that person bad; it’s many things. A combination of these traits makes the person; as does their history and backstory.
Some Caveats to Consider
There are some limitations where bad guys are concerned. Sometimes the bad guys win. It’s a myth that the hero always wins.
There are times when neither the antagonist nor protagonist gets what they want and both characters may end the story empty-handed.
Not all bad guys are bad and not all good guys are good. Writers love shaking things up by reversing the roles, by making bad guys good and good guys bad.
Never make the mistake of turning the antagonist into a caricature bad guy. You’re writing a novel, not a James Bond villain of megalomaniac proportions.
If you decide to kill the bad guy, make sure it’s a satisfactory end for him or her – the reader won’t settle for anything less. The retribution must fit.
Whoever your villain is, he or she needs to be well thought out, complex, well written and just as essential to the story as your hero.
Next week: How to create a convincing good guy.