Donatello: The perimeter’s quiet.
Leonardo: Yeah, a little too quiet.
[Donatello knocks out two Foot soldiers]
Donatello: Well, that was easy!
Leonardo: Yeah, a little too easy.
Donatello: Look! It’s Raph!
Michelangelo: Yeah, a little too Raph.
If you don’t remember this little piece of awesome it hales from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze (which also contains my fav, Vanilla Ice… but that’s a topic better saved for 90’s flash back day). The first time I saw this scene I laughed so hard my tummy hurt. My brothers and I still quote it to this day and, yes, I still laugh… though not quite so hard. How can you not? “It’s Raph! Yeah, a little too Raph.” How can Raph be TOO Raph?
But it can happen, especially with our villains!
A villain that is TOO villainous. Not that they are too evil (because evil still sells), but that they have nothing else going for them except their villainy. No depth. No emotion (other than muhahaha). No substance.
In his book On Writing, Stephen Kings says, “My job (and yours , if you decide this is a viable approach to storytelling) is to make sure the fictional folks behave in ways that will both help the story and seem reasonable to us, given what we know about them (and what we know about real life, of course)” (p.195).
So how do we do this? How do we make our villains “reasonable” (or real) to our audience? How do we shave off the handlebar mustache? King suggests we give them unexpected traits:
“Sometimes villains feel self-doubt… sometimes they feel pity. And sometimes the good guy tries to turn away from doing the right thing” (On Writing, p195).
This was an “aha” moment for me. I’ve read about giving your bad guy a reason for people to follow him, like power or charisma. That made sense. But I never thought about giving him emotions that I relate too. I never thought of a villain doubting himself. What? Really? They are on their way to ruling the world and they have doubts as to whether or not they can do it? What about the need to be loved? Can we see a bad guy hurting because he was rejected even as he pushes forward towards starting World War III? Or anxiety. Does my antagonist have to take anti-anxiety meds because he’s stressed about whether or not his laser will actually destroy the moon? Can he… *gulps*… be afraid of failure?!?
It’s interesting to see the other side of our villains. The side that makes us weep. The side that makes us relate. The side that makes us think… well… maybe he’s not so bad after all… even if he does want to wipe out an entire city with a new strain of bubonic plague. Because it’s this side that makes us understand him and ourselves better. (Now that’s a scary thought!)
Think about it. What else is going on in your bad guy’s head and in his heart? What is he thinking/doing when he’s not rubbing his hands together or tugging at the mustache?
What emotions, doubts or fears can you give to your bad guy that will make him (or her!) less cardboard and more real? I’d love to hear your ideas!
(BONUS: Here is the Ninja Rap music video by Vanilla Ice… just in case you needed your Ice fix today!)