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Villains Have Feelings Too

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Why do some villains make us stick the book in the freezer and others fall flat? Do they even matter?

Yes, you better believe our villains matter. As writers we don’t want our audience to close the book and be done with the experience. We want them to carry it with them. Even villains need to haunt us off the page.

As a writer, I want my reader to be passionate about the main character. They need to love them. It isn’t enough to like them. The same goes for the villain. I need to inspire passion. The reader needs to despise/hate the villain.

So what makes that hate so strong or that villain so scary that you can’t even have the book in your sight? It’s familiarity, a villain the reader can relate to, a disturbing bond. This happens when the reader meets this unbelievably awful person and sees themselves reflected in them.

My favorite examples include Jack Frost from Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Bellatrix Lestrange from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series.

In the opening scene of The Graveyard Book, Jack Frost sneaks into the main character, Bod’s house while everyone is sleeping and kills his whole family with a knife. Bod a baby, escapes, and Jack tries to find him and kill him. The whole idea that someone could kill a baby is very disturbing and the fact that he treats it as business as usual is even worse. Then he has a name that symbolizes a happy childhood character that just intensifies his creepiness.

As the book progresses we learn that Jack dresses like a respectable gentleman, does good deeds (more likely pretends), lives with his grandma, and is part of a topic secret brotherhood: Jacks of All Trades. Then bam we find out that it was prophesized that Bod would destroy the Jacks, Jack’s family. Wouldn’t you do anything to prevent the destruction of your own family?

There are plenty of reasons to fear Bellatrix Lestrange: pure blood witch, Death Eater, tortured the Longbottoms to insanity, escaped the unescapable prison, killed her family both Nymphadora Tonks and Sirius Black, and Voldemort’s most loyal servant (Respected by him too).

Like Jack, she comes from a respectable family. She is described as tall, dark and beautiful and is even named: Bella. Prison has taken a toll on her, but if she is anything, she is a woman of values: loyal and honest.

She is extremely loyal to those she loves, those she considers her family (not blood traders like her niece and cousin). Against her own judgment she accompanies her sister Narcissa to visit Snape and even taught her nephew, Draco, Occlumency to protect himself.

So what makes her very relatable? Its true love. She seems pretty disinterested in her husband Rudolphus. However she loves Voldemort and would do anything for him, even kill the boy who lived and anyone who stands in the way. Now who can’t relate to that?

To sum it up, remember to save the cat in the first chapter to make sure your audience falls in love with your main character. But it is also important to save evil black cats during your story. Make your reader bond with your villain – terrifying.

Quotes to leave you with:

“Neville Longbottom, isn’t it? How’s mum and dad?” – Bellatrix

“The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.” – Narrator The Graveyard Book.

Good Reference:

Kole, Mary. Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers. Blue Ash: Writer’s Digest Books, 2012. Print.

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2 Responses to “Villains Have Feelings Too”

  1. I want to read that Gaiman book! He’s an amazing writer – his imagery is so vivid.

    • Jessica Toman Jessica Toman says:

      He is great and he visited Tulsa this month. I had to give up my ticket :(, but a friend brought me his interview in the intermission booklet. I loved the Graveyard Book. It may have to do with all the time I spent in old New England cemetaries and wondered the stories of those below 🙂

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