Charity asked me to write a post to celebrate the release of my first novel, Without Bloodshed, and wanted me to share my methods for character development. As the title suggested, I started with the bad guy.
Why did I start with the bad guy? I can name several reasons: Sauron, Lord Foul the Despiser, the Warlock King, and Darken Rahl. None of these four are actual characters, despite being the primary antagonists in their respective novels. They're "Dark Lords", evil for the sake of being evil, and sought to dominate or destroy the worlds they inhabit because that's how Dark Lords roll.
I thought I could do better, and set out to prove it with Imaginos, the antagonist of my Starbreaker series. The first step in creating a better antagonist was to ask, "Why does Imaginos want to rule the world? What would he do with the world once he took over?"
The answer immediately followed: "He wants to save the world." This is not the sort of motive one expects from a fantasy villain, and raises other questions. If Imaginos wants to save the world, what makes him the villain? It can't be his motive, so what are his methods? From what threat does he mean to save the world? Did he set out to defeat a monster, only to become one himself?
To answer the first question, I turned to the 1988 Blue Oyster Cult concept album from which I took my character's name. Like the original, my Imaginos is an "actor in history", alternately influencing human events or taking advantage of them to serve his own purposes. He manipulates, he uses truth as willingly as lies, he kills. He does all of this to save his not-quite-human people from genocide at the hands of an entity who pretends to be God when interacting with human beings. Further inspiration came from "Prophecy", a song from Iced Earth's Something Wicked This Way Comes album:
The lyric above posed another question: who or what is the "perfect beast" Imaginos and his companions would build with the knowledge humanity seeks? I decided that protagonist Morgan Stormrider would be that beast, and that his search for revenge against Imaginos for the murder of his lover Christabel Crowley would be part of Imaginos' machinations.
But as Morgan himself will ask: if the false God who seeks to destroy Imaginos' people is such a dire threat, why couldn't Imaginos reveal himself to Morgan, present his case, and persuade Morgan to fight beside him?
The answer to this question concerns the nature of the Starbreaker, the one weapon capable of killing ensof: entities like the false God that Imaginos opposes, as well as Imaginos himself. This dark sword (which I admit is inspired by Stormbringer) is sentient, and would claim its wielder's body as a host should the wielder unleash the Starbreaker's full power -- as must be done to destroy one of the ensof.
Once unleashed and in control of a host, the only way to bind the Starbreaker again and force it into dormancy is to kill the host. Any attempt at deicide by one of Imaginos' people using the Starbreaker is a suicide mission. But what if Imaginos could create a devil-killer capable of controlling the Starbreaker in its unleashed state, and giving this assassin cause to destroy not just the false God, but Imaginos himself, since Imaginos is fully aware of the threat he himself poses to both his own people and humanity?
With just a few questions asked about my villain, I not only roughly characterized my villain, but created a greater threat for him to oppose, a protagonist who will oppose him, and identified the primary conflict between them. From an hour's effort at characterization I also got some plotting and world-building done.
Not bad for a long-haired metalhead, right?
Of course, Charity also wants me to give other aspiring writers some tips. Let's see if any of these help:
1. Figure out what your antagonists want, and why. The more effort you put into your bad guys, the richer your plot will be.
2. Do everything you can to humanize all of your characters, not just the ones you want to win at the end.
3. Remember that while tragic heroes have a fatal flaw, a tragic villain might have a fatal virtue.
Matthew, thank you so much for visiting today and sharing these great insights. And your tips are priceless! I think I'm going to ruminate a bit longer on my antagonists!
“All who threaten me die.”
These words made Morgan Stormrider’s reputation as one of the Phoenix Society’s deadliest IRD officers. He served with distinction as the Society’s avenger, hunting down anybody who dared kill an Adversary in the line of duty. After a decade spent living by the sword, Morgan seeks to bid a farewell to arms and make a new life with his friends as a musician.Regardless of his faltering faith, the Phoenix Society has a final mission for Morgan Stormrider after a dictator’s accusations make him a liability to the organization. He must put everything aside, travel to Boston, and prove he is not the Society’s assassin. He must put down Alexander Liebenthal’s coup while taking him alive.
Despite the gravity of his task, Morgan cannot put aside his ex-girlfriend’s murder, or efforts to frame him and his closest friends for the crime. He cannot ignore a request from a trusted friend to investigate the theft of designs for a weapon before which even gods stand defenseless. He cannot disregard the corruption implied in the Phoenix Society’s willingness to make him a scapegoat should he fail to resolve the crisis in Boston without bloodshed.
The words with which Morgan Stormrider forged his reputation haunt him still.
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 319 Pages
Pub. Date: November 17, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-62007-278-3 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-1-62007-279-0 (paperback)
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Matthew Graybosch is the author of Without Bloodshed, a near-future science fantasy thriller set in the Starbreaker universe. Without Bloodshed is published by Curiosity Quills Press and currently available.
His other works include:
“Tattoo Vampire”: a short story featuring Morgan Stormrider
“The Milgram Battery”: a short story featuring Morgan Stormrider, available in the Curiosity Quills Primetime charity anthology
“Steadfast”: a novelette featuring Naomi Bradleigh
According to official records maintained by the state of New York, Matthew Graybosch was born on Long Island in 1978. Urban legends in New York suggest he might be Rosemary’s Baby, the result of top-secret DOD attempts to continue Nazi experiments combining human technology and black magic, or that he sprang fully grown from his father’s forehead with a sledgehammer in one hand and a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology in the other — and has given the poor man headaches ever since.
The truth is more prosaic. Matthew Graybosch is a novelist from New York who lives in central Pennsylvania. He is also an avid reader, a long-haired metalhead, and an unrepentant nerd.
Find Matthew Online:
Tumblr | Direct link: https://twitter.com/MGraybosch
Goodreads | Direct link: https://twitter.com/MGraybosch