I’ve always loved baddies. As a kid I must have been the only one in the cinema rooting for the Bond villains. I knew that despite all their evil intentions, it was them who were the underdogs. Bond always lived to fight another day.
A literary agent posted recently on Twitter that they were fed up of submissions where the antagonists in children’s novels all had yellow teeth and bad breath. This got me thinking; how do you create a good fictional baddie for kids?
The fear factor
My brother used to enjoy scaring me. If he wasn’t trying to convince me there was a dead nun in my wardrobe, he was tapping on my window with a werewolf glove late at night. Needless to say it doesn’t take much to give me the jitters. A good starting point for creating a great villain is to think about what makes you frightened. Chances are something that creeps you out will terrify others too.
It’s all in the name
I loved Enid Blyton. Especially The Magic Faraway Tree. I spent an awful lot of time searching for it in my local woods. In saying that, I wouldn’t have wanted to bump into Dame Slap. When you think of all the best baddies that have ever been created they’ve all got one thing in common – brilliant names. It’s a fantastic way for readers to get a sense of a character before they even know anything about them.
The dark side
Ultimately a villain’s purpose is to drive the conflict of a story so that the hero overcomes obstacles and grows as a character. There are varying levels of badness you can give an antagonist ranging from pure psychotic evilness to mostly good but did one dastardly thing. You can’t beat a good ‘pantomime’ baddie: the ones who are hell-bent on destroying the protagonist at all cost. I find villains who have both light and shade in their characters slightly more interesting. They are less predictable in their actions and therefore can often be more surprising.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall
The Wicked Witch of the West, Cruella de Vil and Captain Hook are just a few examples of antagonists you could describe in relatively few words and people would instantly know who they were. Iconic baddies usually have something about them that’s visually distinctive.
Sshh. Did you hear something?
Breathe heavily before you speak and chances are you’ll be asked why you are impersonating Darth Vader. If you think about it, he wouldn’t be half as menacing without his loud breath. How a character talks, the words they use or even how they sound can all add to the unsavoriness of a character.