Every Villain's the Hero of His Own Story
While scratching my head at this perplexing AP headline yesterday, Blagojevich: I'm the victim of plot to raise taxes, I was reminded of an absolute truism. Every villain is the hero or her of his own story. Often, said villains are incredibly creative about how they warp reality in order to craft a heroic narrative for themselves. In this story, the embattled Illinois governor rails against the "black hats" plotting to oust him for nefarious tax-related reasons. In another shining moment, Blogovich actually compared the federal corruption charges against him to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He's hardly alone in coming up with such comparisons. People invent all sorts of explanations, a million different justifications for why they've committed every act deemed unacceptable by our society. It's fascinating and often more than a little sad to hear their reasoning, to know that somewhere inside their own minds, they are Absolutely Blameless.
When crafting a villain for your book, it's important to keep this in mind. No one simply wakes up one morning and decides to be evil. He has what seems, to him at least. to be good reasons or worthy ends in mind, even when he doesn't like to look too closely at the means he's using to achieve them. And many times, blinded by his own narrative, he's completely unable to see other alternatives.
A really talented author can make readers relate on some level with the book's antagonist while also convincing them to root for the poor, doomed villain's failure (and for the protagonist's success, with any luck). With all the antagonist's hopes, dreams, and motives laid bare, the reader cannot help but relate to him (or her, of course) as a living, breathing human being.
So today, think about your story's bad guy. Really think about his whys and wherefores, and convince us that they matter to him. More than anything. Make them see the human tragedy of one wrong turn (or many) taken, a choice that separates the villain from a hero.
Otherwise, you've got yourself a parody, and not a character.