Most stories live and die by the worth of their villains. They are in one way of looking, the reason for telling stories. There are rare exceptions. Stories of self exploration and mastery, biographies, etc can all circumvent the need for an outside actor to move the plot along. When it comes to fantasy fiction the need for an evil, an obstacle, or person of ill intent is key to the genre.
I think it can be very easy to slip into the trope of the mustache twisting black hat villain in fantasy fiction. To avoid this, I think that rooting your story in the antagonist motivation is critical. When I began conceptualizing the Legacy of Shadow series, I honestly did not have a set direction for it. The world came first and presented me with problems that really bothered me and somewhat ruined the rationale for such a place.
I knew that I wanted some omnipresent force to oppose the heroes. I knew that I wanted this force to be something that did not have to confront them directly, but that could corrupt their very reasons for stepping into the field of conflict. My first attempt at the character who would become my ultimate villain for this series was known only by title: “The White Witch”. Please bear in mind that at the time, I had absolutely no knowledge of The Chronicals of Narnia. Seriously. I didn’t.
This character was aloof and distant and somehow responsible for the trials and tribulations of the world I created in the Legacy of Shadow series. She was generic and…boring.
So, I began to ask myself questions about her. What had she done to be responsible for the undead curse placed upon the land? Stepping back, I had to ask, what is she to begin with? ”Elf” was the answer. More specifically, a “Light” elf when compared to the thus far heroic “Dark” elves that this world and its characters encountered. Then came the inversion, the typically heroic by nature good-guy forest elves would somehow be responsible for…what? Or should it even be all of them? Why not just one? What if one member of this otherwise pristine race of creatures did something so terrible, that…
That what? What could one character do that would be so condemning to vilify that character for all time? The answer was: she is responsible for the death of her entire race. Already there were no light elves in the story but there were uncountable undead creatures. So, this character became responsible for the death of her entire race and that genocide resulted in a world ravaged by undead hordes of elves.
Now we were getting somewhere. It wasn’t very far down the road but the wheels were spinning.
What would make a character commit genocide on their own race? Would it be purposeful? Or would it be accidental? Well, one thing that was certain in my mind was that this villain would be something that a reader could understand however, sympathy was not something I wanted to extend to her. Accidental was right out. Purposeful? This was a more difficult thing to accomplish.
I was stuck. I needed something beyond petty vengeance, something grand something…that was eluding me. That’s when Jimi Hendrix happened to me. That’s when I turned up the music in my car and happened to turn my ear at the right moment to hear the lyrics that unlocked the remainder of my story.
“Anger he smiles, towering in shiny metallic purple armor. Queen jealousy, envy waits behind him. Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground…”
It wasn’t much but the idea of sins personified struck me just the right way. It’s been done countless times, sure. This time though I felt I had found a unique hook. This “White Witch” became Envy in my mind, the personification of a unique and deadly power. (Her color happily changed in my mind as well.)
What would the personification of Envy possibly find herself jealous of? What would a creature with immense power and a hatred of anything more powerful than it turn its attention towards? God. That personified sin would turn its rage towards the one thing that truly held dominion over it, in this case God. Now the genocide of a entire race could make sense within the context of one powerful entity looking to dethrone another.
Thus my Deadly Sin Envy, the Queen of Jealousy was born.
The reasons that surround her actions and the way in which she achieves her goals are all details that play out in the book but the important thing here is that the villain’s motivations are genuine and even though a reader would not agree with her actions, they can understand those motivations never the less.
I began this by commenting that a villain’s actions are the driving force for most plots. While this is true for Envy’s actions as the story moves forward, she is still a somewhat distant, a force that can not be engaged for most of the tale. Her motivations and the way by which she seeks to achieve those goals create a dread and even outright fear in other characters lending credence to their own actions. This does not even speak to the ways when Envy does reach out into the moral realm, how characters who are directly touched by her actions take on a villainy all of their own.
Creating a complex villain on an epic scale has allowed me to tie characters, places, and most importantly a plot of epic scope into a story that has its roots in a concept that everyone can identify with “Too much is never enough”.