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  • by Matthew Bayan

How Strong Does Your Villain Need To Be?

An effective way to match your villain to your hero is to create an asymmetrical relationship between their strengths and weaknesses.

When strengths and weaknesses are not matched, the relationship between the characters becomes interesting. The opportunity for conflict increases. Even when strengths may be nearly equal, the field of battle switches to weaknesses. Spiderman and the Green Goblin are roughly equal in strength. So, where's the chink in Spidey's armor? Mary Jane. What's GG's weakness? He's insane.

The plot becomes a chess match where the antagonist makes a move which is then answered by the protagonist and so on. Usually, the antagonist has the upper hand through much of a novel, requiring the protagonist to suffer and to step up his game, or lose the conflict.

In constructing characters, it’s easy to make your hero likeable and the villain despicable. That’s the road to Cardboard-Character-Ville. The best villains have some likeable trait. Conversely, a hero needs flaws and weaknesses to make her human and believable.

Hannibal Lecter, one of the best villains ever created, is memorable, yes, because he is capable of incredible evil, but also because his evil is tempered by a sense of honor and decorum. He treats Clarisse Starling with respect because she treats him with respect. He is not inclined to harm her because she has done nothing to insult his sense of propriety. He doesn’t lie to her. These are admirable traits which give us the ability to sympathize with Lecter to some degree.

Conversely, Clarisse Starling is not a perfect hero. She has a rural-poverty background which she is not proud of and which she is trying to leave behind. She is easily fooled. She is inexperienced as an FBI agent and it almost gets her killed. She must really step up her game by the end of the novel.

A good rule of thumb to use in constructing main characters is 2 + 1. For the villain, have two evil traits and one good trait. For the hero, have two good traits and one bad trait. This approach takes your characters out of Cardboard-Character-Ville.

Don't forget: BODY DROP is available for pre-order and goes live May 1. This is the sequel to the bestseller, THE FIRECRACKER KING. From May 1 through May 5, you can get a free Kindle copy of THE FIRECRACKER KING to get you started in this mystery/adventure series.

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