Friday, September 9, 2011

Welcome to Sylvia Ney

Today's Friday Friend is Sylvia Ney, a wife and mother of two living in southeast Texas. She taught in public schools for seven years and left to become a stay at home mom after the birth of her first daughter. She has published newspaper articles, photography, poetry and short stories. To learn more about her, please visit her blog:

Loving Your Villain

It’s vital the author know their protagonist intimately or the readers won’t relate and they won’t fall in love with your story. Most writers understand this and have become adept at creating memorable heroes worth falling for.

Yet the villain tends not to receive any love. “But he’s not supposed too,” I hear you silently shout. “We’re not supposed to sympathize with them. They’re the villain—they don’t want your pity, they want your respect, your fear. But sympathy? Villains scoff at sympathy.”

They also tend to make you—the writer—forget that they were supposed to be multi-faceted at all. We want them to be evil. We don’t want to love them. We just need them for conflict and then they fail (maybe even die).

Why should you become devoted to the antagonist? Especially after everything that character has done to others?

The answer is simple: if you don’t love your villain, your writing will show it. Your antagonist will have one side: EVIL, and become the stereotypical bad guy because you didn’t spend enough time getting to know his other side. Your writing will fall flat.

So, how do you create an effective villain?

1. Even Villains Have A Good Side — Remember that no one is all good or all evil, unless your villain is a demon and you’re writing horror. Of course, a demon with a soft side might be interesting as well.

2. What is the Villain’s Motivation? — Take a look at your antagonist. Do you know his family? Does he have siblings? What are his dreams? What does his mother think of him? What is his guilty pleasure? What does he fear? Why does he act the way he does?

3. Don't Overdo It — Don't get "villain-happy;" make your villains as evil as they need to be for the storyline, but no more than that; otherwise, they will either ring untrue or they will take over the story, distracting from the hero, heroine, and original plot.

4. A villain’s Demise — your villain must get his punishment in the end; if he simply disappears, then you've given the villain too much power. Take away his power and give the reader the satisfaction of closure for all the evil that the villain put your hero and heroine through. This doesn't necessarily mean that the villain must die, but he should suffer in some way for his actions.

5. Villain as the Hero — Of course, some villains can become very successful main characters. You may find yourself so attached to a villain that he warrants his own story. Or you may have a “bad boy” hero.

“Do not hesitate to give your hero lusts of the flesh, dark passions, impulses to evil; for these dark powers, fused with their opposites – the will to good, the moral impulses, the powers of the spirit – will do to your character precisely what the opposite powers of fire and water do to the sword blade." - William Foster-Harris

In my story “Broken Angel” we realize the protagonist is far from the savior he appears to be. Many authors use similar tactics for their lead. The whole point is to spend some time with your antagonist. Let him tell you all about himself, get to know him and don’t stop until you absolutely love him as much if not more than your protagonist. 

Because once you love your antagonist, something funny happens—you want your readers to love him too. And you’ll make sure they do.

Who are your favorite villains or less than perfect leads?

Thanks so much for being with us today, Sylvia, and for such an interesting post about villains! 

Link to Sylvia's story 'Broken Angel'


  1. Hi Sylvia,

    Brilliant post! There's nothing like an anti-hero to drool over. You're absolutely right, if the anti-hero is too anti he's dead in the water and might as well not be featured.

    To be honest, I've fallen in love with anti-heroes in the past. When reading Lorna Doone I was always rooting for Carver Doone, and couldn't understand what in hell Lorna saw in Jan Rydd. ;)

    In fact, I think that novel probably impacted upon me more that I'd thought, because in one of my novels the anti-hero is to die for yet he's a manipulative bastard of the first order. He does suffer, and I guess unrequited love can hurt for far longer than if death had given him a way out, which is what he sought.

    Thought provoking post. Thank you.


  2. Thank you for sharing! Very thought provoking, and useful information. Will take it to heart.

  3. Hi Sylvia,

    Thanks so much for joining us at Heroines with Hearts today. I write straight contemporary romance, so my villians tend to be more internal.

    My favorite movie villian is Darth Vader. (I'm a huge Star Wars geek!) When George Lucas finally brought us the beginning of the saga, we got to know this character as Anakin Skywalker and the reasons behind his evil. It made him much more of a tragic figure...made him seem more human as we saw everything that happened to take his hummanity away. And in the end, of course, he was able to redeem himself through the love of his son.

  4. Hi Sylvia, so glad you could be with us today. First of all, great advice about villains. My WIP's villain is going to be the hero in my next story, so I had to (and have to still) do a lot of research into his character to make him bad enough to be the villain this time, but redeemable enough to be the hero next time. I'm still working on it...

    I just read your Broken Angel story and it was terrific! I love the twist at the end and how it made Jake much more well-rounded. Great job!

  5. Great post! In my WIP, the villian is a main character and gets lots of page time. I need a villian to prompt reactions in my hero and heroines.

  6. Paula - Thank you so much for hosting me today!

    Francine - I have not read the book you mentioned, but there are so many villains I have loved over the years.

    Debra - you are so right about Anakin. I'm a bid Star Wars nerd as well! ;-)

    Jennifer - Thank you for reading "Broken Angel". There are a few changes I want to make to it, but I love Jake and am tempted to tell more of his story at some point.

    Jennifer, Ana and humor after 50 - Thank you for reading. Best of luck on your own villain/hero!

  7. Sylvia, I'd love to read more about Jake--let me know if you ever add more!

  8. That was a great post! I love to play around with my villains and make it seem like they might not be the bad guys after all. Of course, I appreciate a very clever character like that! One of my favorite villains which really turned more a dark hero was Gerald Tarrant from C.S. Friedman's Coldfire trilogy.

  9. SYLVIA-this is very informative and intelligent. I don't see an antogonist as a "true villian," though. An antogonist can be someone just so overly annoying or in the way the hero or heroine cannot move ahead. To me, a villian is downright mean.

    But I do still do agree with you mostly.
    In my very first book--a Western Historical--the mother-in-law was the villian. Yes, a real villian. She actually drove the story, because everything that happened to the heroine was a result of the MIL's devious actions. The publisher said I had to remove her as POV, because this was a romance--only two POV--I persisted in arguing and finally got my villian.
    She was good, she did pretty much steal the show. More comments were made about the MIL than the heroine or hero. In fact, she was so good, I heard over and over--"I hated her!" High praise, indeed.
    But I gave her a horrible accident, and the heroine had to look after her--more conflict.
    In the end, I redeemed the villian MIL. I just couldn't stand for the new grandbaby to have a grandmother with such an evil streak.
    See? You realy piqued my interest with this topic! Wonderful.

  10. The days of the cardboard, "Snidely Whiplash" villain are over. To my mind, and even more powerful plot can be created when opposing forces are both good, and yet at odds with each other. Two noble plans clashing.

    Sometimes author but mostly illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, ILEX, Asimov's Science Fiction, Moonstone Books, Enslow Publishers, and many other presses and self-publishing authors.

  11. All of your points are spot on! In writing lessons, a lot of emphasis is placed on character development, but I think too often villain development is overlooked in favor of giving the MC the spotlight.

  12. Excellent pointers! I've never really written fiction (just non-fiction), but I've been toying with the idea for awhile now. Great information! :)- Katwin2010

  13. Christine and Celia - you are both right. Villains aren't ALL bad. They can have redeeming and even wonderful qualities.

    Duncan - I loved Snidely with his top hat and cape.

    Kristin - Thank you for stopping by. I've seen some missed opportunities with villains. When you see their own struggles, you may not like them but you'll understand and possibly empathize with them.

  14. My favorite villain is Boba Fett from Star Wars. Silent but sexy I guess...

  15. So much great information to keep in mind as we write about our villains. Great piece.

  16. Yes, even villains can be decent folks. But in a battle, the villain isn't always a bad person. S/he may be a principled protagonist on the opposite of your hero.

  17. P.I. Barrington - I like Boba Fett as well! ;-)

    Jenn and Rob-Bear - Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I love a "Good" Villain.

  18. Really good post, Sylvia. Thanks!

  19. Hey, I just wrote a post where I shared a link to this:

  20. Christine - Thank you so much for referencing this post. You wrote a wonderfully thoughtful post. I love John in the movie - I've never read the book, but you made some excellent points. I tried to leave a comment on your blog, but it wouldn't let me for some reason. I'll keep trying!

  21. villians all they are the same after all. I prefer darker characters.