I’m not sure if there is an “art” to writing about villains, but I do find that to write convincing and three-dimensional villains, one must be sympathetic to their plight. I’m always drawn to stories where good and evil aren’t depicted in stark black and white but in infinite shades of grey. We need to understand what drives a person to do evil things in order to understand our own less than noble intentions.
When I was writing The Isle of the Lost, I decided to have the protagonist, Mal, experience the same snubbing that befell her mother Maleficent. As we all know Maleficent was not invited to Princess Aurora’s christening, which set off the events in Sleeping Beauty. In my story, Mal is six years old and not invited to Evie’s birthday party. This also sets off the events in my story, and it gives Mal a little perspective into her own mother’s psyche.
Being rejected and excluded creates a pain that is as real as physical pain, and I think when you write about villains you have to remember that their desires and motivations are just as important to them as the heroes’ and heroines’ desires and motivations. The art of writing them is to humanize them, to me, they’re not these stick-figure dark lords glowing with a red eye on a horizon, they’re wounded and selfish people who are just trying to do their best to get rid of this pain they are feeling—by inflicting it on others.
In my vampire series Blue Bloods, the real villain of my story is a flawed hero, a failure. I love tragic stories, and I love stories about villains, I see our humanity reflected in their tales so much more clearly than the classic hero stories. Look at the current pop culture slate—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, led by anti-hero characters who are much more complex and interesting than a do-gooder hero.
Root for the villain, if anything, they’re the hero of their own story.
About Melissa de la Cruz
Melissa de la Cruz is the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of over thirty novels for readers of all ages. Her Blue Bloods series sold over three million copies worldwide, and her novel, Witches of East End, was adapted as an hour-long television drama on Lifetime, starring Julia Ormond and Jenna Dewan-Tatum. Her latest books include the Heart of Dread series (Frozen and Stolen), The Ring and the Crown, Vampires of Manhattan, and the upcoming young adult spinoff Triple Moon: Summer on East End. She lives in Los Angeles and Palm Springs with her family. She is currently working on the next novel in the Descendants series.
Publisher’s Synopsis: The first in an enchanting new series by New York Times bestselling author of the Blue Bloods series and Witches of East End, adapted for television on Lifetime.
Evil tree. Bad apple?
Once upon a time—twenty years ago, to be precise—the villains of the fabled kingdom of Auradon were rounded up by the benevolent King Beast and exiled to a faraway island, insulated by a force field that kept them in, and kept all magic out. Powerless, deprived of natural adversaries, they had no choice but to live ordinary lives—lording over their minions to no end, plotting evil deeds to no avail, and yes, um, raising their kids to be as evil as can be….
It was the party to end all parties, the most elaborate gathering the island had ever seen, and all the other six-year-olds had been invited to celebrate princess Evie’s birthday. The Evil Queen had spared no expense for her daughter’s big day. All of their parents had been invited, too. In fact, every wretched, dark-hearted citizen of the Isle of the Lost had received a vulture-delivered invitation—except one…well, make that two. High above the festivities, staring down from her mother’s evil lair, six-year-old Mal seethed with envy. Of course, her mother, Maleficent, was known to despise parties. But why had Mal been excluded? She pursed her lips and made a vow. That awful Evie and her mirror-loving mother would be made to pay.
And pay they did. Maleficent, ever the master of intimidation, made them afraid to leave their decrepit home, forcing Evil Queen to castle-school her daughter for the past ten years.
Now, as the story opens on THE ISLE OF THE LOST: A Descendants Novel (Disney-Hyperion; ISBN 978-1-4847-2097-4; 5/05/2015; $17.99), sixteen-year-old Mal recalls the sting of that decade-old slight when a new girl shows up in class: a blue-haired beauty who seems dreadfully familiar. Fed up with the seclusion of castle-schooling, Evie has decided to attend Dragon Hall with the other descendants. Little does she know, her presence has given Mal a new sense of evil purpose—a new victim to trick and torment.
But soon Mal’s attention turns to something much bigger. She learns from her mother that the most powerful source of dark magic, the Dragon’s Eye, has been awakened. It is hidden inside Maleficent’s scepter in the forbidden fortress on the far side of the island. The eye is the villains’ only chance of getting off the Isle of the Lost for good, but of course, there’s a catch. The magic globe will knock whoever touches it first into a deep sleep for a thousand years. And Mal knows just who to send to retrieve it. But how will she lure Evie to the forbidden fortress? She will need the help of her “friends”—Jay (son of Jafar) and Carlos (son of Cruella de Vil)—to make it work.
As they begin their journey, all four kids have their own motives for reaching the fortress. But, the setbacks and challenges they face along the way prove that these four are more than “frenemies.” In their quest for the world’s most powerful evil, the descendants of the world’s most villainous characters come to realize, despite themselves, that being good may not be so bad.
Written with characteristic wit and charm—and the fresh, teen-friendly dialogue her readers have come to adore—Melissa del la Cruz delivers another engaging, cliff-hanging novel that will keep readers of all ages turning pages, eager for the next story in a series sure to become a modern classic.
THE ISLE OF THE LOST is a prequel to Disney’s “Descendants,” the upcoming live-action adventure comedy premiering on Disney Channel in 2015.
Ages 9-12 | Publisher: Disney-Hyperion | May 5, 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1484720974
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Melissa de la Cruz, author of The Isle of the Lost: A Descendants Novel, wrote the article The Art of Writing About Villians. Discover more articles on The Children’s Book Review tagged with Art Of Writing, Disney, Melissa de la Cruz, The Descendants Series, Villians, and Writing Tips.