The third law of writing
Newton’s third law states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. One of the laws of writing should be that for every hero there must be an equal and opposite villain. Because if you don’t have a powerful villain, you don’t have a conflict. And conflict drives novels. Maybe not all novels, but certainly the ones I write.
If you have a kid with almost magical powers and a light sabre, you have to have an adult with those same magical powers and a bigger light sabre. If you have a dragon slayer you must have a big, bad dragon. The nine riders and the nine ring-bearers, Gandalf and Sauron. Flash Gordon and the Emperor Ming. You get the picture.
Often villains are fascinating characters. You might not like them but they’re interesting in a way that heroes can’t be. We wonder what makes them tick, why they’re like that. Star Wars iconic villain Darth Vader was so well introduced it took my breath away. A ship under siege, hunted down by a star destroyer that seemed to go on forever (yes, I ducked). There’s a brief battle, the goodies lose. And then this… being arrives. Black body armour, black cloak, black death’s head mask. And rasping breathing. Whoa. There’s something seriously wrong with this dude. And he’s nasty, nasty, nasty. Breaks a man’s neck with his hand. And all this in the first few minutes of the film.
Yes, okay the heroine is a smart-mouthed princess in a white dress (black vs white, get it?). But once we see Darth Vader, we get an idea of the odds stacked up against the wide-eyed farm boy and we start to feel some sympathy for him. And of course, Darth was very, very popular with the women. Tall, dark and powerful, quite a few ladies fantasised about ripping that mask off. There are still several websites dedicated to the original Star Wars villain and it is Darth who provides the impetus for all six movies.
So when you’re crafting your novel, make sure your villain comes up to scratch. Make sure Superman has a Lex Luthor with a piece of Kryptonite, Batman has The Joker. Because if your hero doesn’t have to battle the odds, who cares?
Any examples of villains you’d like to share?