Welcome to #MondayBlogs! Every Monday, a guest blogger will be covering a topic revolving around reading and writing, and today’s topic can be found on the more ominous side of literature. SiameseMayhem is a sassy reader and the writer behind Pirate Kitties: Musings on YA Novels and Pop Culture – a quirky and intelligent blog I absolutely recommend. Today, SiameseMayhem is talking about one of my favorite topics of all time – female villains – and how difficult they are to create, especially when literature is dominated by male villains. Cue the evil music and laughter. This one is delightful.
Writing Complex Female Villains
I am writing a novel, and I realize I have committed a terrible sin. My female villain revolves around the men in her life. Since she isn’t her own person, I’ve been allowing the plot to yank her around on a chain, instead of the other way around–and it should always be the other way around. Whenever I’ve needed something done, her motivations have changed to suit me. I haven’t developed her as much as my other characters, I haven’t been able to get in her head, and I’ve been seriously stuck.
It’s easy to create an interesting male villain. We have plenty of examples to pick from in film and literature, and their personalities are as varied as the colors in the rainbow. They go bad because destroying the world is too much fun to pass up, they go bad because a girl said no (ugh), they go bad because it seemed convenient at the time, or they go bad because their families were horribly murdered (cliched, but I’ll still go aww).
In other words, I can think of several male villains off the top of my head with varied reasons for turning to the dark side. Female villains? I’m struggling to think of any girls in Western media who had reasons for bad behavior other than a man. There’s Umbridge from Harry Potter, but we never learned what her motivation for torturing schoolkids was, whereas villains and antiheroes like Voldemort and Snape were given far more development. There was Victoria from Twilight, but her only reason for causing trouble was the death of her mate, James. However, both Umbridge and Victoria were formidable, competent opponents, which is more than I can say for most villainous women.
When girls get antagonistic roles at all, it is usually as the dreaded other woman. She’s the soulless, vicious, popular harpy you love to hate, prepackaged in the designer clothes you’ve always wanted (but you’d never admit it), and she is on her way to steal your man. (Honestly, though, if your boyfriend falls for a cliched other woman with more personality in her shoes than in her brain, he’s probably not worth keeping around.) Just a few weeks ago, I finished Teardrop by Lauren Kate. When the antagonist showed up, I was actually interested in her characterization. She was a Wiccan in a small Southern town, she wore black, she had cool tattoos, and she seemed like the opposite of the usual cliche. However, even her Gothic sensibilities couldn’t save her from draping herself all over a boy that the heroine didn’t even want. Obviously, she was the worst person ever, seeing that she perpetrated the unpardonable crime of poaching a member of the heroine’s harem. Meanwhile, the male characters spent the whole book fighting over a girl.
Teardrop is a small example, but it does show how differently female characters are judged. Don’t believe me? Visualize a hot, evil guy. When he’s not plotting to take over the world, he can be found caking on eyeliner and crying. At the end of the book, he steals the hero’s girl.
Predicted fan reactions: “ZOMG, you poor baby! Come to mama! I WILL NEVER LET THEM HURT YOU AGAIN. Btw, I totally shipped them from the beginning, the hero was so boring anyway, no wonder she left him.” And so on.
Now visualize a hot, evil girl. When she’s not plotting to take over the world, she can be found caking on eyeliner and crying. At the end of the book, she steals the heroine’s boy.
Predicted fan reactions: cannot be printed.
Women are hardly ever allowed to be hot, evil, complex, and independent all at once. We’ve made some major gains in 2014, it’s true, but we still don’t have enough bad girls in leather with complicated pasts who stay strong to the end.
In short, all I want for Christmas is more Maleficents. Maleficent may not fit the criteria I laid out at the beginning of this post, since her start of villainy results from the actions of a slimy boyfriend, but she wastes no time rising above that inauspicious beginning. She defends her land, she has other relationships besides the one with the slimy boyfriend, and she rocks those horns. Her character arc may begin dependently, but it ends independently, and that is the most important thing. Maleficent is how you write a bad girl.
Sometimes the best Christmas presents are the ones we give ourselves, so this holiday season, I am going to learn. I am going to spend time with my villain and nurture her and understand her and write her a long, tragic backstory before I even begin the novel. It may be too early to tell, but I think it’s going to be longer than the other characters’ backstories combined.
Want to be a guest blogger? Wonderful! I am accepting guest posts that focus on reading and writing. No blatant advertisements. You are allowed a book link in the post as long as it’s relevant to the post. Including a bio and a picture is encouraged. If you qualify, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll look forward to hearing from you!