Character Development: What Makes a Villain a Villain?
Why Do You Have to Be So Wicked?
“Are people born wicked, or is wickedness thrust upon them?”
I’ve loved that line from the Broadway musical Wicked from the moment I heard it. The question really stuck with me. What makes a person truly evil? Is it nature or does it happen by circumstance?
What makes a villain a villain?
I’ve always been a fascinated—and a little bit terrified—of villains, especially in fairytales. As a child, I couldn’t get enough of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs even if the old witch sent me diving into our couch cushions to hide my eyes. (Don’t even get me started on the scars my mother gave me when she forced me onto the Walt Disney World ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventure, claiming it wouldn’t be scary at all. She was wrong. Dead wrong.) Unlike the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the Disney movie versions all had happy endings, and I couldn’t help thinking about what happened to the villains in them. Sure, some faced a fiery death, but others just disappeared from the screen never to be mentioned again.
Was Cinderella’s wicked stepmother sent off to fairy tale jail?
Was the sea witch in The Little Mermaid destroyed or was she just out there waiting somewhere for her revenge?
What would have happened if the big bad wolf in Little Red Riding Hood got away?
My mom has always called me a “glass half full” kind of girl, which may explain why I’ve always been obsessed with these villains and villainesses seeing the error of their ways. Couldn’t these villains get a second chance even after they stole glass slippers and tried to separate loves? I imagined these villains making amends and being sentenced to fairy tale community service—having to clean up pixie dust and shine shoes or something else of the sort.
It was around the time my own boys started getting into fairy tales that my villain rehabilitation fantasies started up again. From there the idea of Flunked, book one in the Fairy Tale Reform School series was born. What would happen if some of the biggest fairy tale villains—the wicked stepmother from Cinderella, the evil queen from Snow White, the disgruntled fairy from Sleeping Beauty, TheBig Bad Wolf, and the sea siren from The Little Mermaid—turned over a new leaf? They’d open up a reform school for delinquent children in the fairy tale community, of course. Tasked with helping pick pockets, thieves, bullies and magic abusers see the error of the ways, I imagined these former villains ruling a school where it would be hard for kids to get away with mischief. After all, their teachers invented everything they could dream up to get away with themselves.
Change is hard. Reinventing yourself is even harder. I’m not going to pretend all the teachers at Fairy Tale Reform School have the best of intentions (where would the fun in that be?), but I can promise that in this world, wickedness is never what it seems.
About the Author
Jen Calonita has interviewed everyone from Reese Witherspoon to Justin Timberlake, but the only person she’s ever wanted to trade places with is Disney’s Cinderella. Jen’s first series, Secrets of My Hollywood Life, was inspired by her work as a Senior Entertainment Editor at Teen People. When Jen isn’t plotting, she’s working on the sequel to FTRS in Merrick, New York where she lives with her husband, two sons, and their Chihuahua, Captain Jack Sparrow. Visit Jen at jencalonitaonline.com.
About Fairy Tale Reform School: Flunked (Sourecbooks Jabberwocky March 2015)
Full of regret, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, Flora, has founded the Fairy Tale Reform School with the mission of turning the wicked and criminally mischievous into upstanding members of Enchantasia.
Impish, sassy 12-year-old Gilly has a history of petty theft and she’s not too sorry about it. When she lifts a hair clip, she gets tossed in reform school—for at least three months. But when she meets fellow students Jax and Kayla, she learns there’s more to this school than its sweet mission. There’s a battle brewing and she starts to wonder: can a villain really change?
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