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villains are people too {by j. grace pennington}

by - Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Today I'm excited to have my first guest post ever on Further Up and Further In, featuring J. Grace Pennington. It's been a pleasure working with Grace on this and I'm thrilled to be a part of her blog tour announcing her new book release, titled Firmament: Radialloy.


Speaking of Firmament: Radialloy, this sci-fi book is now for sale on Amazon! Click here to find out more about her book, and don't forget to stop by her website to find out more about Grace, her book, and the blog tour going on this month.

And now, may I introduce Grace, who is here to tell us about her personal journey with those dastardly, evil characters often known as villains.


I’ve been told I write good villains.  I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing.  Sure it makes for a compelling story, but there’s something a little unnerving about being good at writing terribly evil antagonists.

Although it’s not terribleness and evilness or even antagonism that makes a good villain.  Evil bad guys who make it their whole business to throw obstacles in the hero’s path are a dime a dozen.

Everyone is born sinful, but no one is born an evil bad guy.  People can have horrible, sinful motives, but they do have motives.  In the words of Pixar director Pete Doctor “Nobody goes to bed thinking ‘I wonder what evil I will do tomorrow!’”  Even Hitler convinced himself he was doing good.

When I wrote the first draft of Firmament: Radialloy, my villain was a stereotypical, unrealistic, evil, power hungry, I’m-going-to-take-over-the-world bad guy.  He cared about no one and nothing, he had a slight motivation of revenge, but was mostly motivated by pure power for no real reason.  When I went to revise, he was one of the things that most needed fixing, and so I went about figuring him out.

When I was finished with him, he had become a much more level-headed, realistically motivated, personable, while still horrible villain.  I learned many things about villain creation during that time that I’ve since applied to other creations.

One thing I learned is villains are people too.  Yes, they must be evil, they must do terrible things to your protagonist and make the story go from bad to worse, but they are people.  The key to making this come through in your writing, I think, is to look beyond your villain’s actions and force yourself to think about their inner thoughts, their hopes, their dreams, their fears.  They are terribly twisted people, most often, but what do they think when in their room alone at night?  In those moments between dastardly plots, what is in their hearts?  What are they afraid of?  Who do they care about, or have they cared about in the past?  Keep that in mind as you write them.

Another thing that I find helpful in writing villains is change and realistic motivation.  Nobody wakes up suddenly evil one day.  Two fictional examples I looked to for inspiration were Denathor of Gondor from Lord of the Rings and Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars.  Both of them were a good example of these ideas.

Denathor was at one time committed to his job, noble, desiring the best for his people.  But two things changed him, from what I understand--first, the enemy’s power grew so great that fear pushed him to use foolish methods to achieve good ends.  He wanted so much to protect his people, that he turned to forbidden and wrong measures.  And when his beloved son died, the grief put him over the edge.  Once he dabbled in the darkness, the downward spiral carried him further until he was almost a stereotypical evil, heartless, twisted bad guy--but he didn’t arrive there overnight.

As for Anakin, he started off as a sweet boy who just wanted to protect the weak and those he loved.  What better motivation could there be?  But again, fear was his downfall.  He became so desperate to save those he cared for that he was eventually willing to do anything for it.  Once again, it wasn’t a sudden change--his motivations were always the same, just his obsession led him on a downward spiral that finally ridded him of everything he had.

One interesting thing to note is that with both of these two villains, their motivations didn’t change once they went wrong.  In both cases, they wanted to protect others, and it was that good motivation that led them to evil.  Often that motivation vanishes at the end, when they finally go so far into darkness that they become insane, but the most compelling villains are those who have or once had a good motivation.

The last thing, and one of the most important things for me in a villain is pity.  I won’t enjoy watching/reading about a villain that I can’t pity.  Personally pity comes easily to me, but even if the reader isn’t the pitying type, I think it’s good enough if you have something in your villain that’s worthy of pity.  To me, being a villain in and of itself is worthy of pity.  Think of the empty life, the scarred heart, the tortured mind behind the evil actions.  That’s something to feel genuine pity for.  But we feel pity for people, not archetypes.  To be pitied, your villain must be human.  He must have suffered.  He must have been wronged.  We’ve all been wronged at some time or other, and even though we don’t always take it to the lengths that our villains do, we understand what it’s like.

Because the truth is, none of our hearts are any better than any villain’s.  We all make wrong choices, we are all human, we all do terrible things to others.  We may not all take it to the length that our villains do, but our hearts are no different aside from the redemption of Christ.

You hear a lot about how your reader needs to see themselves in your hero.  But to me, to make a really top-notch story—they need to see themselves in the villain as well.





J. Grace Pennington has been telling stories since she could talk, and writing them down since age five. Now she lives in the Texas Hill Country with her parents, her eight younger siblings, and her horse, Pioneer. When she's not writing, she enjoys reading good books, playing movie soundtracks on the piano, and looking up at the stars. You can find out more about her writing, including the Firmament series, at www.jgracepennington.com.



More about Firmament: Radialloy

The year is 2320. Andi Lloyd is content with her life as the assistant to her adoptive father, a starship doctor, but her secure world turns upside down when she begins uncovering secrets from her past. When her father mysteriously starts losing his mind, she finds that she can no longer count on him to guide or help her. With mutiny breaking out on the ship, and two factions desperate for a valuable secret she holds, she must race to help her father and herself before time runs out.

>> click here to find out more <<

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11 inklings / what say you?

  1. A VILLAIN POST, OG JOY ITS A VILLAIN POST!!!

    I love this, and agree 100% on EVERYthing that you said. ^.^

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  2. Hi, J. Grace! That was a good post. :) I love writing villains, actually. There's so much more of a range you can get with them.

    For instance, you have Denathor and Anakin's good intentions, but I also wrote a character who really did wake up a villain one day. He fell out of a tree when he was little and it damaged the part of his brain where you feel happiness and the emotions you associate with happiness and it ended up turning him into a sociopath. See, so many ways to write a villain. :)

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    Replies
    1. Wow, that is a really fascinating idea! I can see a lot of pity in that, too. :) Great creativity there!

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  3. This was really interesting. I think it will help me with my writing.

    Thank you, Grace!

    God bless you!
    Joy :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. This helps me, since I've never ever created a villain. At all. My problem is that I justify every single one of my characters and make them seem like misguided angels. But this helps. Great post!

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  5. Hi Sky!
    Guess what? You won the Sunshine Award in my blog tag! I'll be posting it soon, so go check it out and pas it on :) wtg!

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  6. Very true post! Villians are interesting (and kind of challenging!) people to write, eh? And making sure we have a certain amount of pity for our villains? Yes, that's so true...but it's such a fine line between too much pity and not enough. :)

    Great guest post.

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  7. Fascinating! I have also been told I write good villains. I enjoy those, though-- I feel like most of my villains aren't evil, just twisted and kind of sad. Honestly I've only written a few truly evil characters... Nancy the scientist who was emotionally detached and clinically insane and Death, who was a murder-obsessed side of a man with Multiple Personality Disorder. Nancy didn't see good and evil and Death enjoyed being evil.

    Anyways, this post was very informative and I enjoyed reading it. :)

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  8. OOh... Why I think perhaps I do have a good vilain in the making (I was a bit worries when I first started reading this). Tormented youth, check, good intentions gone twisted, check... Though he does need a little more work. To make sure that the motivations he started with can also be seen at the end. Which will also help me work out the Twins, who work for him..

    Yes! Thank you so much for this post. I totally know what you mean by "... there’s something a little unnerving about being good at writing terribly evil antagonists."

    :} Cathryn

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  9. Villains are always my favourites, probably because, just as Grace said, you can pity them. They're so much more human when you realise what has happened to them.

    LIke you, I've been told I'm good at villains. While being able to annihilate anything you want, because heck you're writing a villain, is fun, I find it's the process of discovering how they tick, and why they tick like that, that makes them so engaging. I've got a couple of true-evil characters, but they're far too stereotypical and are currently undergoing reworking. But, I do like to say that sometimes being evil can be fun. And some people enjoy it so much they do it even when they see a way back.

    Because hey, the dark side has cookies. Yummy, yummy cookies...

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  10. That was a thought-provoking article, Grace.

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