This week: Villains, Monsters, and PsychosEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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This newsletter is about creating realistic villains, monsters, and psychos.
"The more successful the villain, the more successful the picture."
~ Alfred Hitchcock, film director
"The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself."
~ Wes Craven, film director
"To make Michael Myers frightening, I had him walk like a man, not a monster."
~ John Carpenter, film director
"A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development."
~ Agnes Repplier, author
"I also have always liked the 'monster within' idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters."
~ George A. Romero, film director
"I like villains because there's something so attractive about a committed person -- they have a plan, an ideology, no matter how twisted. They're motivated."
~ Russell Crowe, actor
Villains, Monsters and Psychos!
The Scare Factor
Any successful fictional story must set up goals (what the character must do), stakes (what will happen if he doesn't), and put in as many barriers to the success of the goals as possible. The thing challenging your hero could be a deadly disease or a natural disaster. But the scariest antagonist is always The Villain. *evil laughter*
These days, readers are pretty savvy and not so easy to scare. In order to put a chill down your reader's spine, your antagonist (man or monster) has to be smart, dangerous, and realistic. He has to have a purpose and logical methods of achieving his goals. He must be over-the-top and memorable.
Can't the villain maim and mutilate just because he's evil?
Yes. There are demons and devils who kill or collect souls for hell simply because they want to. There are ghosts and monsters that will attack just because their sleep or lair have been disturbed. No logic, no plan, no reasoning. They just wanna, so they will.
But -- think about something. Who is your favorite villain or monster? Who's the one that scared you so bad you had to check under the bed, and even then, slept with the light on. Or who's the villain in your favorite Horror movie -- the one that when it comes on TV, you plant yourself on the couch, but hide behind the nearest pillow during the scary scenes -- even if you know what's going to happen next! I bet your favorite villains aren't simple demons or bad-tempered ghosts. I bet the ones who left their mark on you were cunning, deadly, and super freaky.
That's what you want to create. Not something that springs out from under the bed and eats the little boy "just because," but something with a mind, a plan, and 150 ways of getting it done. Something so memorable, that your reader will never forget it!
How To Write a Great Villain
Rule #1: The Villain Must Have a Goal
The villain must have a reason for his actions. It has to be a good reason, one that makes logical sense. It can be as simple as survival or procreation, like Pennywise (It), Alien, Predator, The Thing, zombies, vampires, etc. It can be a dangerously twisted obsession, like Hannibal Lechter, Freddie Krueger, or Annie Wilkes (Misery). Or it can be that they're power-hungry, greedy or vengeful, like Voldemort (HP), Howard Payne (Speed), Magneto (X-Men), or Darth Vader.
To the villain, his actions are perfectly justifiable. You need to explain/show what's driving your villain or monster to do the things he does. Believability makes the monster/villain scary!
Rule #2: The Villain Must Have Consistent and Realistic Motivations in Every Scene
You spend a lot of time trying to make the hero's actions logical and realistic. You have to do the same with the villain. To intensify your story's fear factor, the villain needs to be intelligent or naturally wily. When faced with a problem, he must adapt and find a solution. If you show your antagonist is clever and quite capable of winning every battle, you'll make the outcome of your plot uncertain, and then your reader will be more afraid for the hero.
* If your villain is a serial killer, I suggest you read up on them or watch documentaries to pick up realistic traits and explanations of abnormal psychology. Research counts! *
Rule #3: The Villain Should Have Some Redeeming Quality
To make the monster or villain realistic, they should have a humanistic quality (however slight). It could be something as simple as a love for fine art or playing an instrument as a hobby. The humanizing quality could be in their personality, such as the need for revenge for being hurt (shows they suffered), or a parental instinct to protect its children/hatchlings, or rage from being bullied by a nagging wife/mother/boss. Whatever the villain's human quality is, it should be something the reader can recognize and respond to (such as when Frankenstein gave the little girl a flower). In turn, it will make the characterization stronger and more believable.
Rule #4: The Villain Must be Memorable
A simple serial killer with a hatchet isn't going to hack it. (Well, he may hack his victims up, but he won't stay in your readers' minds.)
You need to create a villain who's memorable and different -- either physically, emotionally, in their mannerisms or hobbies. Something that sets him apart from all the other monsters who've come before. You need a Freak Factor.
Who can forget:
the Nail-faced man in Hell-Raiser? Yikes!
Norman Bates (Psycho) -- mummified mom and a taxidermy hobby. Eew.
Darth Vader's ultra raspy breath -- if you just hear it, you know who it is.
Alien's chest-busting scene -- whoever thought that up the parasite-becomes-jackhammer was a genius.
Make up something really different and riveting for your villain, monster or psycho.
To scare today's jaded readers, you need to spend as much time creating the villain, monster or psycho as you do creating the protagonist.
Give your villain realistic goals and motivations. If his goals are logical, then he's believable and much more scary.
Give your villain a super freaky trait -- something that readers won't forget!
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Reply to this newsletter and tell me who is your favorite villain, monster or psycho from a film or book.
Here are some monster stories for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "The Hook" Thank you!
Moon Voyager writes: This was a very informative newsletter. Learned a lot from it. Liked reading it :)
Thanks! I really appreciate your feedback.
Vampyr14 writes: What a great explanation of hook! It's something we hear all the time, but I've never seen it explained so clearly and simply.
People write about it a lot because it's so important. Thanks so much for commenting!
glo-stick writes: Thanks for the info!
You're very welcome. Thanks for reading and commenting.
Taniuska writes: Hook lines are not easy to write, but when you have one, you know it:)
They are very difficult to come up with. They have to be shocking but still tie into the scene that's coming next. I have a hard time doing it.
Satuawany writes: Awesome newsletter! Great introduction and great examples. I thought I knew all about hooks, but you've broadened my horizons. I thank you.
Also, I admit, I kept waiting for a reference to the old scary story about the hook that winds up on the couple's car-door handle after they speed off. You know, from the killer who had the hook instead of a hand.
The hook-guy is such a good urban legend. Urban legends are a lot of fun. My favorite is Bloody Mary.
BIG BAD WOLF submits "The Werewolf's Gun" and writes: Watch out for grampa sitting at the fireplace telling his old war story.
War stories are interesting. Horror stories are better!
C.Evil writes: This was a great article on an issue that I worry about when I write. I know that if a story doesn't maintain my interest I am not going read or review the item. Then I look at my portfolio and see that some of my items have 60 views but only 3 actual reviews. That makes me wonder if the story is not catching people's interest or not at all.
Some people may be simply looking at the title/genre and deciding it's not for them. But a snappy hook will catch even a reluctant reader. Thanks for commenting!
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