Let’s Get Complicated Part Two: The Positives of Being a Villain

So last time we talked about creating multi-dimensional characters and focused on the protagonist of my novel Sorrow’s Fall.  This week I’d like to help you look for ways to make your antagonist just as compelling and multi-faceted.  After reading my post about Sorrow you are probably wondering what kind of person could possibly be an impediment to him and his goals.  That’s a very good question. It’s also one you need to consider in your own story. For now we are going to assume that your antagonist is another person and not that your character is struggling against nature or something. Nature doesn’t really have a personality, though it might seem like it at times.

In Sorrow’s Fall we are quickly introduced to Qadira Fall. She is the daughter of Lady Zulyekha Fall and the Queen-In-Waiting. She is nearly as powerful as the Barendi Queen herself. She has been raised and groomed to be consummate royalty. She is gorgeous, highly-intelligent and disgustingly wealthy. She also hates Sorrow with a passion. In the book he has no idea why she detests him. All he knows is that she tries to kill him every chance she gets.

She is his antagonist. But outside of her hatred for Sorrow, what is she like?  We know she’s royalty, that she inspires great loyalty among her coterie and that she is driven by the need to save her race. But what core qualities does she possess that take her from just being the person who hates Sorrow to a force all her own?

Last time we started with a negative trait, since most heroes have issues with them. This time lets look at the positive qualities a villain could have.  Yes, even villains have positive traits.  Serious. I’ll prove it.

First I need to figure out her core moral value. The Postitive Trait Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi offers some amazing insight as to why this is so necessary. Not just for villains, but for our heroes as well. In The Positive Trait Thesaurus Appendix B has a method for finding your character’s core moral value. This is the core belief that affects all their other traits.  After making my lovely list of her positive traits I went to Appendix A to see which of them were moral values.  The main one was professional.  I’ll be honest. That confused me. Until I went to the entry for it.  There they list the definition as: exhibiting specialized knowledge and applying it with courtesy and good judgement.

Whoa. Wait-a-minute.  Now I’m more confused. My villain is courteous and has good judgement?  Well, let’s think about this for a moment. She is extremely well educated by the best instructors money can buy. She’s talented, smart, career and success focused, she’s ambitious and mature for her age. She is confident with high self-esteem and is highly ethical.

She’s not sounding very vile.  And if you are not a threat to her, she’s won’t be.  So what associated behaviors might she display where Sorrow can see them?  Lets look at the list.

  • Having the education and knowledge required to be proficient at one’s job
  • Being experienced in a specific field of work
  • Reliability, trustworthiness and honesty
  • Having strong people skills
  • Objectivity
  • Working well under pressure
  • Having a strong command of language and being able to articulate oneself well
  • Adaptability
  • Keeping one’s promises
  • Maintaining control over one’s emotions
  • Being proactive
  • Thinking before acting
  • Treating others with respect and courtesy
  • Being proactive
  • Being a strong listener
  • Assessing the politics of a situation and acting accordingly
  • Using good hygiene
  • Being well dressed
  • Acting appropriately for the situation

I could go on but you get the idea. A couple of the ones I highlighted as far as things Sorrow sees are; being experienced, adaptability, keeping promises, using good hygiene and being well dressed. Each of these things on their own seems pretty neutral or at least positive. So how do we grow her character beyond just being professional?  Well according to Appendix B the next layer beyond the moral core is achievement traits. This was a new thought for me and it took me a little getting used to, but now I see how invaluable it is. So let’s look further into Qadira’s personality and see what achievement traits she’s might posses that build on her core trait of professionalism.

The first one that pops out for me is ambitious but decisive actually wins out as the dominant trait here. Mostly because you can’t get much more successful than she already is, though she does have ambitions. Her decisiveness on the other hand is partly her and partly her upbringing. She’s had to bear a lot of responsibility since she was very young and much is expected of her. Her core value also influences her decisiveness since she is driven by a strong sense of responsibility and has the desire to lead.

Cool, we are on a roll here. Can you see how working from the inmost core trait outward is helping us build her personality and keep her well rounded? Let’s move on to the next layer: interactive.

These traits develop through interaction with others and the world in which the character lives. These traits help her work with her subordinates, handle conflicts, convey ideas and create healthy relationships. So building on our core trait of professionalism and our achievement trait of decisiveness what might be her dominant interactive trait? Here I run across several that are worth noting such as bold, flirtatious, inspirational, patriotic, persuasive, sophisticated and traditional. She is all these traits to varying degrees, but which one is dominant and why? Looking through the book both patriotic and sophistication are good choices, but sophisticated wins.  This is mostly due to her upbringing and the culture in which she was raised. She was brought up to be royalty so sophistication is not only needed, it’s demanded.

Now we come to the out most layer, the identity layer. The book describes this layer as “attributes [that] are tied to a personal sense of identity, leading to satisfaction and contentment with who one is. Traits emerge to allow the character to explore and better understand what makes them unique.” (The Positive Trait Thesaurus 2013, Ackerman & Puglisi, Appendix B page 233). It’s in this layer that I would put patriotic along with traditional. Here traditional actually compliments patriotic. She is very concerned with keeping her native culture untainted by outside influences which is directly tied to politics. She even went so far as to disown her mother who went against the established tradition and is willing to start a war to keep things as they have been.

You’ll notice we’ve not once considered the negative side of any of these traits, yet we already have a very good basis for her character. And she doesn’t seem all that evil does she? 

All of this just from a core value of professionalism.

3 Comments »

  1. I still remember reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, he introduces some notorious real-life villains and breaks their motives down to what arguably would seem like positive traits. The one I remember the most is a quote by Al Capone that he was motivated by the desire to let people have fun (by doing a little harmless carousing). That story has since informed how I treat people who seem to otherwise have some noteworthy negative traits; it’s important to find out what underlying characteristics drive their actions. Your post about finding the core moral value of villains works very much along those lines. Thanks for taking us through a detailed version of the development of Qadira Fall.

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