Author’s note: This is part two of a yet-to-be-named series of narrative essays, this time focusing on villains. Hope you enjoy it!
Phonecall with the felon
“Good evening, you’ve reached Writer’s Aid, how may we help you today?” a man’s voice answered my call.
“I was told you could redirect the call to a character of mine?”
“Sure thing, tell us your name and the name of your manuscript, please,” he said, and I replied obediently. “Thank you. Now please press one to contact the protagonist, two to contact the antagonist, three for the love interest, and four for any side character. You have five minutes. Thanks for choosing us!”
I doubted for a second, then pressed number two. The sound of rain played while I waited. I took a look at the window, it was so dark I couldn’t decipher the outlines of what lay outside. Even with my windows drawn, my room felt strangely cold. The only sources of light were my computer screen and my desk lamp. Suddenly the soundtrack stopped, and my villain spoke to me.
“Took you long enough, didn’t it? I was starting to think you would just stare into that blank page forever,” she said, chuckling. Her voice came slightly distorted through the phone, but somehow she sounded exactly like I had imagined. Soft voice, gentle tone, calm and collected.
I had been preparing myself for this conversation since I saw a Writer’s Aid YouTube commercial. Call your characters now! It had said. And I knew instantly who I would call. Truth be told, my villain was driving me mad.
“Nix. There’s a lot of work to do and we don’t have much time,” I said. “You need an arc, and I’m still trying to figure out your background.”
“More like you have imposter syndrome and deleted your brainstorm thrice.” I hated her for being cruel, but that was all she was. She spoke cruel words with gentle tones. She lacked characterization and depth. That’s why I called Writers Aid. I thought speaking with her would make me picture her clearly, give me new ideas to work with. And, most importantly, I thought it would save my draft from the DNF zone."
“You already gave up on my tragic backstory, didn’t you?”
“Do you still want one?”
“What is it, then?” I decided I was desperate enough to ask.
“I thought figuring that out was your job.”
I clenched my teeth and tried to calm my nerves. We weren’t getting anywhere. I loved tragedy, but I wanted to just make her evil and mysterious. Plus, I didn’t want the readers to feel the slightest hint of pity for her. After all, she would do horrible things. But it seemed that without a backstory, she was just another flat character.
“My job — our job — is to make readers feel something.”
“Hatred will do.”
“Will it, really?” Could I keep her background a mystery?
“And you call yourself a writer?” she asked. “Make what you’ve got work. You’re not going to accomplish anything if you worry about what you don’t have.”
It stung a bit, but it was true. As long as she played her role in my story and nearly drove my character to madness, she could’ve been taught evil since birth. I couldn’t get stuck in her backstory. She wasn’t my protagonist, I was allowed to take this liberty with her. I could figure her actions in my stories’ “present” first.
Quick tip: If you feel like you can’t get a plot point, try to take another route to go there.
In this case, it’s going from main story to the backstory instead of the other way around.
I let that topic drop and tried to focus on the next one. Goals, goals, goals. What moves someone to take bad choices?
“Now, now. Come on. Use that brain of yours. If you spent hours developing the main character, you should be able to give me something.”
“You hate — no. You despise him, don’t you?”
“The main character? That’s the whole point of being the antagonist. Of course, I should hate him.”
“Yes. Yes, you should. But not just yet.”
Finally, I had worked us to something. I realized then that I was treating Nix as an independent piece of the story. A character that had to be there with the sole purpose of creating conflict. Villains are so much more. They rely upon a relationship with the protagonists. Evolving, tangling and untangling. I had to build up their hatred with sequences of interactions and give them reasons to want each other dead.
I thought for a moment about some of the best-known villains. The Joker and Moriarty — apart from being mad — both establish a relationship with the protagonist. An obscure one at that, but one that progressively became worse and would not end until one of them destroyed the other. That was the finish line.
I needed Nix to become the obstacle in my protagonist’s way and vice versa. Development only started with flat characters, whose ways got messed with. As for now, Nix was cruel and enjoyed it. But it would take all kinds of scenes and interactions to get her obsessed with my protagonist. I could see the potential.
“‘Not yet’?” she asked.
“He must become everything you stand against.”
“What do you mean?”
“Scared? And you call yourself a villain?” She was about to reply, but thought better of it and dropped the answer. Fear was another main factor of an antagonist. But this one was simple, I just gave Nix the same fear as my main character: failure. Making them complete opposites or complete equals (with slight variations on how to get what they want) was always an interesting last-resort choice.
I calculated by now we had less than a minute left.
“Don’t expect another call,” I told her.
“I won’t.” She said. But her voice didn’t come from the speaker anymore. I turned around slowly, and there she was, facing me. One eye a bit bigger than the other, sunken cheeks and a soft smile. “I won’t.”
is a young planster with too much passion and too little time on a day. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, whether they are thoroughly researched flash fiction pieces or improvised bedtime stories.