Crafting a Truly Bad Villains ~ Interview with Matt D. Wilson

King
Oblivion, Ph.D.,
has a doctorate in the Nefarious Sciences from Ocean
Trench Fortress University.  He is also
monarch of the tiny Eastern European nation of Explosia, a title he won in a
month-long Rochambeau tournament nearly half a century ago.  In his spare time, he enjoys macramé and
telling his various minions to avoid referring to him as “Dr. King.”
MattD. Wilson has written humor for websites including McSweeneys.net, Cracked.com,
NationalLampoon.com, and ToplessRobot.com. 
He runs the Internation Society of Supervallains website at
The-ISS.com.  He is also one of the
Bureau Chiefs who run the FaceAPStylebook Twitter account, and cowrote the
accompanying book, Write More Good.
Matt, rumor has it you have insider information on
the drives that make a man plot to take over the world. Are there
certain characteristics you have discovered in the dark dens
you visit with Dr. Oblivion (no offense if he prefers His Majesty the King Oblivion
Phd…I’ve never addressed questions to someone of his reputation)? Or
does he have certain habits or warps that make him extra dangerous? How
might writers learn from your
glimpse into his world?

One thing you notice pretty quickly about King Oblivion
is that he offers little opportunity for anyone around him to finish,
or even really start, a sentence. He dominates every conversation, if
you can call them conversations. So when he’s dictating, it can
be difficult to find opportunities for input. Sometimes, you just have
to write in what you can and hope you don’t get turned into a statue for
a week. 


 
Through the years I’m sure you’ve encountered a few wannabes. Yawn. What
are some differences between wannabe bad and really rotten to the core?
Do you have any suggestions to make over a character who just isn’t a
believable bad guy?

I can’t really speak to believeability, since no one in my family believes that King Oblivion
forced me to ghost write this book for him, but for effectiveness, I’d
say a sense of theatricality makes all the difference. Bad guys who do
things the direct way
or the easy way are a big snooze. If you’re writing meglaomaniacs, you
need to make what they do…you know…mega. Planet-scale. Something
they announce while they do it. It helps if it’s also humanly
impossible.
 

What cliches or yawns should writers avoid when writing a worthy foe?


There’s nothing wrong with making an antagonist sympathetic or
misunderstood, but last-minute changes of heart are almost always
cop-outs, especially if they’re prompted by remembering some childhood
trauma or something. People don’t have switches that change
them from good to evil. There’s got to be more to it.
 

A truly rotten nemesis makes the heroes all the more heroic. Tell us why
you think the bad guy can raise the bar on a whole plot?

Great villains can make stories better in two big ways, as I see it.
First, they give the audience something to be passionate about. People
can certainly feel anxiety about a bus full of kids hanging off a cliff,
but their hatred for the person who put the
bus there is likely even stronger. If bad things just happen without
cause, there’s nothing to focus on after the situation is resolved.
Having a bad guy to hate makes for the real catharsis.

The other way is that bad guys add this great air of mystery to so many
stories. Think about Dr. Doom or Darth Vader. These are guys with
full-face masks that we only learn about in bits and pieces. Sure,
Spider-Man wears a mask, but we know who he is from
the get-go. We spend the whole story with him. Villains give the
audience the opportunity to ask, “What’s his/her deal?” They’re
fascinating characters.

 



What are some of your favorite baddies (film, literature, etc.) and why?
List some characteristics that really give them that X factor?

I mentioned Dr. Doom. He’s probably my favorite. There’s just so much
you can do with him. The Joker. Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old
Men is the best movie bad guy in a long, long time, and he’s pretty
intimidating in that book, too. Sauron’s a great
villain. What all those bad guys share is what I talked about a minute
ago, this mysterious aura.
 


Costumes and sidekicks? What is really necessary in the realm of rotten?


Costumes are important. We’re talking about people who want to demand
attention here, and need to make a big first impressions. Sidekicks are
more of a superhero thing. Henchmen are the villain’s purview. They need
lots of cannon fodder.
 


Since most of our readers write novels, their villains need to be of a
more subtle variety, do you have tips to help writers tap into the realm
of supervillainy without having to visit a hideout?

The same things that motivate supervillains can motivate anybody, just
to a less grandiose degree. Greed, revenge, sadism, a skewed sense of
morality. People don’t need complex backstories to explain why they do
bad things. Sometimes people just do bad things
because they can, or to do what they deem to be fair or right at any
given moment, or maybe just to prove a point.
 

And as amazingly cool as super powers are, can you give us suggestions
for super powers on a more psychological or sociopathic level?


It’s pretty astonishing how persuasive a person can be if he or she just
learns to read someone’s body language and subtracts the emotion from a
conversation. It’s not fully mind control, but it sort of is.
 

 
What behaviors have you seen in heroes that make your cheer for the baddie?

Well, you know, they think they’re just such hot stuff. Who are you to
decide what’s right or what isn’t, billionaire in a bat costume? Also,
heroes whine a lot. I hate whining.