The DIY MFA writing prompts are starting to get more into the nuts and bolts of writing, which provides a great opportunity to really think about the craft of writing. It’s also very useful in helping to guide my current work in progress, a pulp action-horror novel that is just getting underway.
Prompt #7 looks at supporting character archetypes as outlined in the DIY MFA book. The list includes the villain, the love interest, the sidekick, the mentor and the fool. We’re asked which type of supporting character is your favorite and why.
For me, it’s very simple. The villain every time. My earliest story writing, way back when you could count my age on just over one hand, took the form of self-produced comic books. Now, these were far from masterpieces. Words and pictures were rudimentary at best (and boy the pictures really weren’t good). Character concepts sometimes made little if any intrinsic sense – such as Fif the Mailman, a vaguely heroic letter carrier with a taste for mayhem and violence. But one thing my early comic production taught me is that a story gains a lot from a good villain (or in this case more likely a silly but powerful villain).
With my reading roots in comic books, pulp novels like those starring Doc Savage and Tarzan, fantasy epics like the Lord of the Rings, I can’t imagine adventure fiction without some compelling villains. I later got into horror and weird fiction in a big way, and these too require interesting and powerful antagonists, even if they are something supernatural or even just vaguely eerie and threatening rather than traditional villains.
Of course, pulp and fantasy novels are rich treasure troves of the other types of supporting characters, and I certainly see an important role for them. In my current work in progress, the protagonist is a former special forces operative who now leads field operations for a team of soldiers and scientists combatting horrible supernatural threats to the planet. The team provides a great opportunity to include a sort of love interest and a couple of sidekicks, as well as a mentor in the team’s founder at headquarters.
As far as the villain in this story, well let’s just say he was involved in some very disturbing experiments involving humans decades ago and things only got worse over the years. In this action story, the lethal weapon that is the protagonist needs a very tough, driven and evil force of opposition. And that means crafting a good villain.