Category Archives: Character Building

Support Your Local Villain

by LC Champlin

We love the hero and hate the villain. That’s just how stories work. Right? But if it wasn’t for that the despised villain, who’s usually more of an antagonist than a master of evil, that hero would have no darkness to shine his light against. So let’s take a minute to appreciate the most overlooked character in fiction: the antagonist.

While many people assume the hero is the most important, they don’t stop to consider why he is a hero. Oh, you say, he’s a hero because he’s brave and self-sacrificing, or because he has special powers he uses to save the world. I’ll give you those. But why does he have to be a hero in the first place? If there’s no danger to be faced, he can’t be brave. If there’s no choice to be made, he can’t be self-sacrificing. And if there’s not some super-powered villain bent on taking over the world, or maybe just holding it hostage for a million dollars, there’s nothing for the hero to use his powers on. Though I suppose Superman could use his super strength to build roads, or his laser eyes to do some welding. But he really shines when there’s a villain to face. The stronger the villain is, the stronger the hero has to be.

Think about it: If it wasn’t for Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, and their Empire, Luke would never have become a Jedi. He’d still be a nerf herder on Tatooine. You might argue that Luke would have been fine being a desert scrounger. Ah, but think of all the good he can do being a Jedi! So in a way, the antagonism of Darth Vader and his henchman brought good in the world by forcing Luke to grow up.

We agree we need an antagonist. But not all villains / antagonists are created equal. Some are truly memorable – and I go back to my example of Darth Vader. Others, not so much. I don’t have to point out the meh Star Wars villains.

What makes a good antagonist? Is it having more than their fair share of evil? Is it cruelty? Well, those can help. They raise the ante, meaning a villain isn’t just content to wipe out a village, but will instead take out an entire planet. What makes a villain memorable and powerful is that it we have to like him to a certain degree. Like the villain? Okay, so maybe like isn’t the best word. “Identify” and “sympathize” with might be better. We may even admire certain of their traits, such as their ambition, motivation, and style.

Let’s go back to Vader. First off, he just looks cool. Don’t deny it. He’s also intimidating, but without having to be freak-out crazy and evil all the time. I mean, he doesn’t have heads on pikes around his ship when he gets off. No, he has his henchmen lined up instead. Even before he Force chokes people, you know you shouldn’t mess with him.

As we get deeper into the story, we begin to relate to him more. He’s had to fight his way through many difficulties in life. He took the route he thought would give him power and success. Those are things we want, and haven’t we all done something wrong to get them? He suffered a lot, and I mean a lot. We understand that pain and trauma of any kind can warp a person. We wonder what we would do if we were in his situation.

Motivation is another key factor in whether a villain makes the Hall of Fame. If they just want to cause havoc, that’s one thing. Even that, if done well, can be fascinating. Take Joker for example. But others actually have good intentions. The Empire wanted to bring the Pax Romana to the galaxy. Ra’s al Ghul and Poison Ivy want to save the world from humanity. But of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There’s another thing that seals the deal when we’re talking about truly great villains. It’s their capacity for good. Darth Vader really did care about his son – SPOILER! – Luke. He wanted Luke to join the Empire as a father and son team. In the end, he fought for Luke. It’s these “pet the cat” moments that show us some spark of humanity that really make us like the villains as characters, even if we don’t agree with what they do.

What about you? What are some of your favorite villains, and why do you like them? I have way too many favorites to name. They usually are my favorite characters, and it shows in my books.

About the author: LC Champlin
Writer, traveler, adventurer, prepper. Lover of all things Geek and Dark. INTJ. I write fiction because the characters in my head have too much attitude to stay in my skull, I want to see the world through different eyes, and I want to live life through different souls.

Character Building: Inside the Mind of a Burglar

by Andy Peloquin

As a dark fantasy author, there are two things I enjoy writing about most:

  1. The underside of society. This includes assassins, thieves, killers, brutes, thugs, mercenaries, and all the other seedy elements of a fantasy world.

  2. The dark side of human nature. I love delving into the psyche of my characters (antagonist and protagonists alike) to better understand the darker elements that make them tick.

In my latest series, I follow the adventures of a girl sold to the Thieves’ Guild of her city. She is raised as a thief—not just any thief, though. A burglar.

Burglars are a unique sort of thief. Pickpockets will steal while out in public. Muggers will threaten violence. But burglars tend to be much more artistic than other thieves. They look at architecture (buildings) and find ways to use the design elements to penetrate highly secure areas.

An article on Science Daily caught my attention as I was researching the character (Ilanna). It talked about a study done to understand the motivations and techniques of burglars. The researchers evaluated both male and female burglars to understand their mindsets, attitudes, and approaches. They found some truly fascinating things:

  • Factors considered – Before burglarizing a house, the burglars would evaluate proximity to people, police, traffic, and business. They would also evaluate escape routes (or the lack thereof), apparent security, surveillance, and the likelihood of being discovered.

  • Alarms matter – Up to 83% of the burglars looked for a security system before deciding whether or not to burglarize the home. 60% would choose another target if they discovered an alarm present. This was particularly true among the careful, planning type of burglars, rather than the “spur of the moment” burglars (the ones who tend to smash and grab).

  • Residential vs. commercial – Roughly 50% of burglars entered homes, while only 31% entered commercial residences.

  • Why? – Drugs were the most common motivation –51% of respondents. Money drove 37% of burglars. Oddly enough, only one burglar ever broke into homes to steal firearms.

  • Planned or not – 41% of burglars committed the crime on the spur of the moment, while only 12% planned all their burglaries in advance.

  • Male vs. female – Male burglars tend to be more deliberate and plan in advance, while female burglars tend to be more impulsive. Women entered homes in the late afternoon, while men entered in the evenings. Women were more likely to be dissuaded from their burglary by an alarm system than men.

I found this study a fascinating way to understand my burglar character. By understanding the mindset of a burglar, I was able to write a character that was realistic in her motivations, approach to the crime, and her decisions of whether or not to burgle homes.

To check out Andy’s books, click here.