When crafting robust villains, the line between Character Development and World Building tends to blur.
In part, this also depends on whether or not your story is more character driven or plot driven.
[Although depending on the genre, a captivating novel needs to be a mixture of both.]
While your readers need to fall in love with your main character(in MOST cases, but more on that in a future post), your villain is the one who sets the stage for the entire story. Your antagonist just as much attention to detail in the plotting process, if not more, than your protagonist.
Yes, the protagonist is the star of the show, but the villain is the director.
The antagonist sets the tone for the entire story, and it’s the job of your main character to overcome the obstacles that he sets in place.
Before we delve back into Voldemort, let’s take a minute to discuss what an antagonist can be:
- 1 person.
- A group of people.
- The World(most commonly seen in Science Fiction, Supernatural, and Post Apocalyptic stories where the actual environment is “against” the character).
- A concept or idea personified ( Death in The Book Thief).
- Actually the Protagonist(Dr. Jekkyl & Mr. Hide, Fight Club, Dorian Gray)
Or any combination of the above, assuming they have the same goals and motives that work against the motives of your main character.
Now, in the case of the Harry Potter Series, the antagonist is a combination of Voldemort, his followers, The Death Eaters, and any underlings they grab along the way to accomplish the goals of the Dark Lord.
Voldemort doesn’t actually play a central role in more than half of the books, but someone involved in his network is always there to maintain the same ominous, death-lurking-around-every-corner tone for the entire series. And it’s through these ancillary characters that we glean most of our intelligence on who Voldemort is as a person.
When he was a person, anyway. *shudders*
Now, in my last post, we talked about how first and foremost Tom Riddle was an extremely gifted wizard. And as a direct result of his genius, how this negatively affected his character and development.
There are a few paths you can take when writing your own genius character:
- They can be socially awkward, keep to themselves, hermit types.
- They can be eccentric like we’ve seen in the character Willy Wonka.
- Or, in the case of Voldemort and countless others, we get someone who is highly skilled at manipulation.
And what is THE key ingredient for a successful, manipulative personality?
Someone who is…
Listen, Tom Riddle is one articulate guy. It’s reason number 2 that he was successful at being such a bad dude. And the proof is in the pudding, as they say:
- Convinced school teachers to discuss restricted, dangerous pieces of illegal magic.
- Successfully pawned off his own crimes as the result of the opening of the Chamber of Secrets (including the indirect murder of Moaning Myrtle) onto Hagrid(who arguably probably wasn’t much of a student and only in his 3rd year).
- Convinced and continued to manipulate Ginny into basically being the surrogate Heir of Slytherin for an entire school year(10 months give or take). And this was only from 1/7th of his soul. He didn’t even have a physical body at this point.
- Garnered dozens of close followers(Death Eaters) to not only do his dirty work but also provided him a vast amount of monetary compensation to successfully reach his aims.
- Easily convinced other marginalized groups(Werewolves, Giants, Dementors…) to do his bidding.
Don’t forget: Tom Riddle was a penniless orphan AND half-blood from a penniless, disgraced pure blood family.
Basically the lowest of the low on the list of people worthy of investing or supporting.
And it’s obvious that thousands, even millions of Galleons were spent in supporting Voldemort over the years from most of the oldest Wizarding families around.
To have sustained longevity as a “Bad Guy”, you’re going to need A LOT of funds to keep up with such an operation. And no one likes to lose money, especially those that are wealthy. Everything comes with a price.
So what does Voldemort do? He gives his benefactors what they want.
Or at least, the promise of what they want.
Pure Bloods Rule The World
Generally speaking, bad guy goals need money. Lots and lots of money.
[At least, this is the case for most Science Fiction/Fantasy realms of stories that I write in. Every genre has a different set of tropes, so make sure you are familiar with your genre.]
And if they weren’t born into money(aka Bruce Wayne/Batman), or created the infamous Snuggie get their money, you need to create a believable explanation as to WHY and HOW they can afford their life of debauchery.
If they don’t work at all, someone is funding them. Explain why someone would fund them.
Even if your villain has crazy powers that make him scare people into loyalty, he still has to eat, OK?
If your villain isn’t rich, you need to explain how they have access to the resources necessary to afford their villainous empire.
If they have a day job, how does that day job work toward helping them with their more important side hustle?
It kind of ruins your street credibility as a bad guy if you have to daylight at Whole Foods to pay the bills.
When picking a day job for your villain, generally speaking, it should either:
A) Work towards their ability to acquire a larger network of powerful people or restricted information.
B) Access to more funds, technology, etc… that they can misuse for their side hustle of world domination.
[Or whatever their goal is that makes them deplorable.]
If your villain isn’t rich, you need to explain how they have access to the resources necessary to afford their villainous empire. Resources to not only fund their operations but have the luxury of not having a day job, so as to devote 100% of their efforts into being a total baddy.
In the case of Voldemort, in order for him to live a life solely dedicated to World Domination(and in the process, Immortality), he needed beaucoup bucks. So, he gives his followers a taste of what they want.
The promise that if he comes to power(and he’s already pretty damn powerful), they’ll go back to the good old days where Pure Bloods ruled the world. Voldemort, not even a pure blood himself, gets what he wants out of the deal and it’s just this one extra thing that requires minimal additional effort on his part.
All in all, a pretty good, effortless deal on his end. And he reaps all the benefits with marginal delivery on his end.
Perhaps your antagonist’s back story isn’t touched on or mentioned very briefly, regardless, it needs to be established.
And its explanation(s), whether they make the pages of your finished manuscript or not MUST be concrete.
No concrete reasonings? Not enough of a stable storyline to captivate your audience.
Worse still? No one cares about those amazing characters who are stuck in your head.
Until next time, I hope this helps you in your journey for creating a well-rounded antagonist!
What are some other aspects of a villain’s character that would influence your world building?
What are some good and bad examples that you’ve seen in literature?
Let’s chat in the comments!