Yesterday, we had started listing 7 Tips for Writing Epic Super Villains where we talked about forgetting the idea that the villain is the hero of their own story. Today, we look at the second tip in our seven-post series.
Tip 2. Make the Villain Mysterious
In short, give us a reason to want to know more about the villain. There really is no better way to compel a reader to turn pages than by giving them half the story, and making them want to find out the rest. Curiosity is a very powerful force and used properly it can transform your villain from comic book run-of-the-mill right up to epic.
The use of mystery in writing has a very long history. Even today, writers use mystery in order to keep audiences riveted in their seats as the story unfolds. Film and television producer/director JJ Abrams talks about a mystery box. He gives the example of a magic kit that he got as a present years ago. He has never opened that magic kit because the mystery and the potential it represents is more important than the knowing. We like mystery and we like letting our imagination fill in the blanks. The joy of not knowing is tantalizing to us.
Unfortunately, in a lot of superhero stories nowadays, there is no real mystery to the villain. We know the life stories of Catwoman, the Green Goblin, Lex Luthor, and just about every other super villain out there. There really isn’t any mystery left to them, except what their motive might be in their current caper.
Even the Joker, a character whose real identity has never been revealed, isn’t as compelling as he could be. The reason for this is simple: as readers, we know everything we need to know about the Joker. He’s nuts. This homicidal clown only keeps our interest because we want to find out what he’s going to do next, and even then we’re pretty sure it involves murder and mayhem. In fact, knowing his true identity, or even his reason for wearing the Red Hood before he became the Joker really doesn’t matter to us as readers.
Compare this with an example from real life: Jack the Ripper. This serial killer was never identified, never caught, and was never punished for his crimes. He is a walking, killing mystery. He has been used as a character or reference in literally hundreds of different stories ever since he stopped killing in 1888. We don’t know why he killed, and we don’t always know how he killed. The only thing we do know is that he terrified London in 1888, and he has been demanding our curiosity ever since.
For Jack the Ripper, his mystery matters to us. It goes right to the heart of our curiosity. For the Joker? Not so much.
Now, let’s take this a step further. We can’t keep the mystery going forever because eventually the readers’ curiosity will wane and readers might become interested in something else. At that point, your super villain ceases to be epic, and becomes relegated to the comic book equivalent of one hit wonders. So, to keep your character epic, you need to introduce one, two, or more new mysteries for each one that you solve. This way, you keep the readers’ curiosity engaged and you compel them to want to know more and more about your villain.
All trademarks and characters are the property of their respective owners. No challenge to any trademark status or ownership is made or contemplated. Any images used in this post are either Public Domain, or are used under Creative Commons licenses, or under the Terms of Fair Use under International Copyright Law which allows such use for comment and review purposes.
Tune in again tomorrow for another tip. Same bat-time, same bat-channel. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the tips and the series in the comment area below!