On Friday I journeyed into London to attend the 'not a launch' launch party for Sarwat Chadda's Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress. It was great to catch up with Sarwat, and a number of other authors and bloggerswho had ventured into the city to help Sarwat celebrate. Now Sarwat has very kindly written a piece for The Book Zone, focusing on the villain of Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress. if you haven't read the book yet then you really should have a quick read of my review and then go out and get your hands on a copy. Now, over to Sarwat:
Evolution of a Bad Guy by Sarwat Chadda
A book is only as interesting as its bad guy. After all, how else can the hero be measured? There’re just so many cats Superman can save out of a tree before we need Lex Luthor ready to nuke the West Coast.
I probably had more fun creating the bad guy out of ‘Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress’ than I did the hero, Ash. Ash was easy. He was 13, a bit geeky, and bit cowardly and had the same interests as most 13 yo boys. Which is hanging out with mates, playing computer games, and trying to talk to girls. I think having been one myself made it a lot easier. Ash is easy to understand. He’s just a normal kid. It is what happens to him that’s extraordinary and why we’re interested in the book. We want our characters to be thrown in the shark tank and we want to see what happens. Sink, swim, get chewed to death in a vortex of limbs, fins and blood, or they bite back.
So, I needed to create my own, particular story shark.
I love sharks. They’re so basic, so primitive, so perfectly designed. Pure predator with no extra bits. You never look at a shark and think ‘gosh, how sleek and look at the pretty eyes’ you think ‘OMG, get out of the water!’. I wanted that sort of bad guy. Someone you would never, ever mistake for anything else.
So, allow me to present the guide to ‘Building a better bad guy’.
- There are no bad guys. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Whatever mad, world-destroying scheme they may have, there’s a reason for it. The reason may only be reasonable to their own twisted little minds, but it has to exist. Bad guys being bad ‘just because’ will not wash. Now I’m not talking about some childhood trauma, that’s fine but we’re wanting to go EPIC, so we need more. Give them grand plans with a twisted logic. Lord Savage is an archaeologist, a searcher for knowledge. He’s not satisfied with just what’s in books or stuff other people have discovered, he wants to push the boundaries and find out for himself. That’s a rather commendable trait, don’t you think? So, if the opportunity to learn from the greatest magician the world has ever known came up, of course he’d go for it. He wouldn’t let anyone stand in his way. Unfortunately that magician is the demon king Ravana, and freeing demons is generally BAD. But that’s not how Savage thinks. He’s dedicated to the endless pursuit of knowledge and has the arrogance to believe he’ll be wise enough to control it. The guys who invented the atom bomb probably thought the same way.
- Cool henchmen. Come on, what’s a supervillain without henchmen? Oddjob, Jaws, Darth Maul and even Spike had henchmen. I’m not talking about minions. Minions are faceless and have no credentials but their number. Like zombies. Nobody remembers an individual zombie. The appeal of zombies is quantity. Henchmen you remember. Often as good as the hero, but for a single flaw (usually arrogance). They provide the penultimate challenge before they face the Big Bad. Design them with thought and care; they have the potential to be legends in their own right. After all, Darth Vader is technically a henchman. So, if I’ve already got my villain, Lord Savage, what sort of henchmen would he have? Since he’s an archaeologist, characters with history. Since he deals with demons, then demons are good. The scarier the better (should there ever be any other kind?). BUT they must be heroes in their stories too. The demons in Ash Mistry are tragic outcasts in a world that hates them. So they return that hate tenfold. They were the losers in the ancient battle between human and demonkind and since then have been feared and despised. So, they relish the fear they generate. They revel in the horror because that’s all they have left.
- Location, location, location. Be it a hollowed out-volcano or Death Star, your bad guy needs a home. It has to be part of his personality and the setting for the book. You will not get Bond and Blofeld facing down in your local Tesco. My personal preference is something grand, operatic. I am writing fantasy so feel no urge to be restrained. Climactic battles should involve thunder, lightning, screaming hordes of demons and lava. Villains are never faced down in a meadow of spring flowers. Grand bad guys need grand digs. Locations should be exotic, and twisted. So, where to put Savage and his henchmen? Something old, decaying yet filled with ancient grandeur. I was extraordinarily lucky when I did my research for the book. I had planned for it to be set in India and India does epic like the Sahara does desert. I found a rundown maharajah’s palace on the banks of the Ganges. Crocodiles lurked in the river-side reeds while the dusty statues of gods and demons looked on from the battlements. I hardly needed to change a thing to turn it into the Savage Fortress.