Sometimes, villains are hard to understand.
There are the cliché ones, of course. The cackling egomaniac who wants to take over the world just because he can. The psychopath who kills for the sake of killing. You don’t really have to look hard to get into their head.
Unfortunately, these characters are overused and frankly, a cheap method of avoiding fleshing out another character. The villain ought to be a real person too, not just a target for your protagonist to shoot at. That means strengths, weaknesses, wants, fears… the whole nine yards. It’s a tricky path to walk, however. You can’t have a completely soulless villain, but you don’t want readers rooting for him/her either.
In the story I’m working on, I was having a lot of trouble seeing things from my villain’s perspective. Why?
Well, he was a genocidal maniac. That made it tricky. Also, I’d never bothered to think about his life past the impact he made on the story. What was his background? What set him on that path?
I could have embarked on drafting out an immense biography/genealogy chart, but I opted for a more entertaining method. I wrote a chapter in his POV.
This is a lot of fun, because you can explore their motives a lot more closely. No, not all of it will come through in the book. However, understanding why your villain does what he does will allow you to treat him more fairly whenever he pops up. I’d never even thought about why my villain started killing people. Then suddenly I wondered, “What if it had been an accident at first, until he saw what power it gave him?” So in roughly 2000 words, I wrote a little piece on his ‘ascent to villainy’. It’s like a stop motion video of character development (as it branches about ten chapters in the real novel.) We go from this:
He stands half in shadow with a dead girl in his arms, and everything is wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s amazing the power he has – power over life and death, power over public opinion, power over what this whole country of sheep thinks about everything. Anything is possible. All you need is a little blood to tip the scales.
in 1000 words. That’s pretty crazy.
Of course, as I was writing, I changed his story a little, which means going back and changing the actual story to make things work. It’s worth it, though. After rewriting a little bit in his POV, I’ve started looking at all of his scenes from his viewpoint, which makes it feel a little more real. The only danger is… I’ve started to feel bad for him. Maybe everyone is dropped into a situation beyond their control, and the difference between heroes and villains is how they get out of it. I finally respect the crap I’ve put my poor villain through, and understand that he’s not a complete psychopath. Or he wasn’t at first, at least.
He’s still dying, though.