How to be human AND evil, with Rumpel and Regina

Posted: October 1, 2012 in How to... (Writing Tips), TV Shows, Writing
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to write a strong female character, with Emma Swan.”

The last post in this series was also about the TV show Once Upon a Time. Most of the time I don’t like repeating topics or shows back to back like this, but I felt like it was necessary with this one. As you may or may not know, the series premiere of season 2 of OUAT aired last night. AND I’M SUPER PUMPED! (Sorry.) I knew it would be a great time to explore something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now: villains.

Villains are an important part of any story, and they’re often as complex and interesting as the heroes. Some bad guys are just evil – like Voldemort. I’m a Harry Potter super-nerd, so I have nothing bad to say about any of the characters in that book. BUT it’s important to note that Voldemort is evil, plain and simple. His soul is in pieces and he displays no emotions other than insane glee when things go his way and an all-consuming rage when they don’t. And hey, that’s okay.

But if you’re looking for something a little bit different in your villains, check out Rumpelstiltskin and Regina from Once Upon a Time.

First, Rumpel/Mr. Gold.

Rumpel’s fatal flaw is that he chooses power over everything – over doing what’s right, over love, and even over family. But he does have two weak spots, even if they’re very tiny. The first one is his son, Bae. Through a series of unfortunate events (that have nothing to do with that series), Rumpel chose his power over his own son and his son was sent away to another land. Where exactly he was sent, we’re not totally sure. But Rumpel still feels guilty about it and he wants to see his son again – more than anything.

The other person Rumpel cares about is Belle. (Yeah, that Belle.) He loves her. And she loves him. So what’s the problem? Well, true love’s kiss will take away Rumpel’s power and he can’t have that. He’d rather live as a monster than live without magic. When he gets to the real world, he also feels extremely guilty about this. He loved Belle, and he let her be ripped from his grasp. He’s got a lot to feel ashamed of, but he’s also got a lot of rage running through his veins. The second season sets us up with the question – will Rumpel finally do what’s right? The guilt and the anger are running in opposition of each other and I honestly don’t know which one will conquer and rule his actions.

Cut to the Evil Queen/Regina.

She was living the high life until Snow White ruined everything. I don’t want to give anything away about her back story, but let’s just say that she’s got good reason to blame Snow (although everything Snow did was unintentional). When Snow and Charming kicked Regina out of the castle, she sacrificed everything to come back out on top.

Now that she’s in Storybrooke, she has a pretty good setup for herself. She’s mayor and everyone is afraid of her (as they should be). She’s adopted a son that she genuinely loves. He…doesn’t feel the same way. He knows that she’s the Evil Queen and he does everything he can to help break the curse that she’s placed on this little town in Maine.

Would you ever catch Voldemort caring about his true love or his son? Not a chance. Does this make R&R any less evil? No way. If anything, it juxtaposes just how evil they really are. They’re willing to sacrifice the really amazing things in their life for power and control over everyone else. It truly shows us what they’re capable of. Any bad guy can go around town slaughtering whoever he wants to in order to gain power. But when he does the same thing to his own family or his own friends, it means so much more.

So don’t be afraid to make your bad guys human. Voldemort works in the context of the story that J.K. Rowling was trying to tell, but that doesn’t mean he’ll work in any story. A human villain will allow your readers to connect with the antagonist. They’ll understand his or her motivations and they’ll actually end up connecting with them, on some level, even if they don’t agree with what they’re doing. Anything that gives your audience a reason to connect with a character – good or evil – is something worth thinking about. In my book at least.

Which do you prefer? Do you like your baddies full of evil up to their eyeballs, a la Voldemort? Or do you prefer to be torn between feeling bad for them one week and hating them the next, like I often do with Rumpelstiltskin and Regina?

  1. Nice opinion. Perfectly voiced out. 🙂

  2. Kitt Crescendo says:

    I like the complex villains that show just a smidgen of humanity…making it hard to completely hate them, because, somehow, some way, you can actually relate to them. So although you hope that good triumphs over evil, you also hope they somehow either manage to redeem themselves or learn a lesson that leaves them better than they were.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Yes, absolutely! And that’s exactly what I’m hoping to see on OUAT. I don’t think either one of these characters are going to ever be wholly likeable, but they have a chance to become better people and I honestly hope they take it…eventually. Wouldn’t want them to clean up their acts too soon, for the sake of drama and the plot of the show. 😉

      • Dang it! Now I have to add one more show to my DVR list. I’m totally curious now. And I was just thinking, based on the books the Malfoy family totally fit the complex villain category. Of course then you’ve got Bellatrix…who was completely bad and off her rocker, but über fun! Yeah, there’s always going to be a place in our hearts for the rotten to the core type, no matter how we wish there wasn’t. They say and do everything we have wished we could at least once in our lives. (Bellatrix would come in handy during my road rage moments).

  3. Rumpel cares about meeee??? *bats eyelashes, flattered* Haha. Anyway…tough to pick between uber-bad villains and villains with a sense of humanity…though I am always partial to the bad guys that are bad to the core, you know, no regrets, no second-guessing? I just find them so…amusing. And hilarious. They’re true to themselves, an oddly nice quality.

    • Karen Rought says:

      Haha! I didn’t even think about that. 😉

      I agree. I really like both, actually. But I think a lot of newbie writers do villains wrong and that it’s a good thing to see them as human, with motivations and flaws and even some redeeming qualities. But I also love those evil to the core baddies too – it’s refreshing when they don’t have their pre-kill monologue and just kill the person because, let’s be honest, that’s the best way to survive.

  4. Excellent post. I prefer my villains with a soft underbelly. I want to see them love something or care about something, and then have to choose between their evil plans or the thing they love. That’s one of the elements I enjoy so much about Once Upon A Time.

  5. […] comparisons.  A couple months ago Emma talked about super couples…literally speaking.  Karen, at the beginning of the month, discussed how to be both evil and likeable…These ladies got […]

  6. […] How to be human AND evil, with Rumpel and Regina Categories […]

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