I’ve often attested writing villains is fun. They are frequently my favorite characters in the book. Not so much because I think they are admirable people, but because they are fun to hate.
The bad guys often share certain character flaws. It’s these shortcomings that make them villainous. They act on their base urges instead of on higher ones.
A common trait among antagonists in popular fiction is being selfish. A lot of villains think only of themselves — they want their desires gratified, their aims accomplished, their needs fulfilled — and they don’t give a damn about anyone else’s problems nor whom they have to hurt to get what they want.
Several of the bad guys in my new novel, The Sword and the Sorcerer, suffer from this particular malady, and I’ll explore below how selfishness plays out among several of the book’s key characters.
Of all the characters in the Sword and the Sorcerer, Lord Vicia is the most callous. She murders Gothemus Draco, the world’s most powerful magician. Ostensibly, she commits this crime for the purpose of improving the city-state of Eldenberg’s position in the power structure of the Known World. Gothemus and his brother Zod control the iron trade, and Eldenberg is in a weak position. As a member of the city’s governing Council of Elders, Vicia makes a move they authorize to take out Gothemus in an elaborate power play.
But Vicia isn’t really interested in Eldenberg’s political position on the world stage. What she really wants is power — power for her.
She sees this move as a stepping stone to the presidency of the Council of Elders and as a means to steal Gothemus Draco’s magic:
“Very well then,” Vicia said. “I shall move forward with my plan. I will deliver the Eye of the Dragon to the Council of Elders, we will master it, and then Eldenberg will become the foremost power in the Known World.”
She smiled at the hear-hears she got from everyone but Lord Hedron. Now she just needed Elmanax to do his part. As long as the gnome could deliver what he promised, she was going to be president of the Council of Elders and the most powerful woman in the Known World.”
Lord Vicia tells the Council she is doing everything for their benefit, but she’s really only interested in feeding her own ambition.
This goes horribly wrong for her almost right away. Against all understanding, Gothemus’s magic lives on after his death. Vicia is unable to do what she said she could, and the situation rapidly spirals out of control.
“Do you appreciate the political ramifications of these developments, Lord Vicia?” said an ancient voice Elmanax recognized as Lord Vestran’s.
“I do, my lord,” she said.
“This council murdered one of the most powerful magicians in the Known World — the very lynchpin on which the worldwide balance of power rested,” he continued as though Vicia hadn’t responded. “You persuaded us that, with Gothemus Draco dead, you would be able to procure the Eye of the Dragon. You insisted we would be able to use it to suppress Zod the Fearless and force Dalasport into a favorable trade agreement. You promised Eldenberg would rise as the supreme power in a new world order.
“Now Gothemus’s blood is on our hands, but the Eye of the Dragon is still securely locked in his tower. The means to get it out was stolen, and the thieves have escaped to Dalasport, where they will find a friend in Duke Boordin. He will no doubt inform Zod, forge a new alliance, and we will have a war on our hands we are ill-equipped to fight.
“Since poisoning Gothemus Draco, you have failed at everything you promised us you could do! And your folly has put us all in danger.”
The criticism leveled at Vicia is on the mark, but her concern is still not for Eldenberg’s well being. Whether the city prevails or falls in a war with Dalasport and Zod doesn’t really matter to her, except that it might rob her of her chance to ascend to the presidency of the Council. Vicia is selfish. She doesn’t care what happens as long as she gets what she wants.
Vicia wanted to scream. She needed to be able to bring the fugitives in quickly. If she could return them tonight, it would allay the fears of the Council. As it was, they were losing confidence in her. Vestran had warned her not to fail, and she wasn’t sure she would be able to persuade him to show mercy if she couldn’t deliver what she’d promised this time. Coming home empty-handed could result in her removal as an Elder . . . or worse.
Vicia is only interested in her ambitions. And that self-centered attitude undoes her and the Council she alleges to serve.
Zod the Fearless: Blind Desire
Gothemus’s brother has similar motivations. Prior to Gothemus’s murder, the two brothers had planned to use the magical sword, Wyrmblade, to help Zod become king over all. Like Vicia, he seeks to be the most powerful person in the world.
That had been the plan. Zod would use Wyrmblade to become king over all. Gothemus would use the Eye of the Dragon to subdue the Wild Lands, and Zod would conquer the human world. Together, they would be all-powerful and invincible.
Also like Vicia, Zod doesn’t really care about anyone else. He’s perfectly comfortable with the idea of a world without his brother, so long as Zod has the sword that will make him a king.
But Zod’s selfish ambition blinds him to the truth: he already has everything he wants. Zod and Gothemus already effectively rule the Known World by controlling the iron trade and dictating terms to everyone else. Every other lord and magician is afraid of them. Not only are there really no more lands to conquer, Zod has everything he could ever need. His nephew, Calibot, puts it best:
“You’re already rich, Uncle Zod,” Calibot said. He put a sympathetic tone in his voice. “There’s no need for you to continue your business. You have no heirs to provide for. Return to your fortress and live out your days in comfort. Or take your riches and adventure until you can’t. There’s no need for you to be ironmonger to the Known World.
“If no one possesses the Eye of the Dragon, the balance of power doesn’t change. You just get cut out of the equation. And, since you have no worldly needs, that’s no hardship for you.”
Of course, Zod can’t accept that. He wants what he wants, and he doesn’t care what the consequences of getting it are. He wants to be king, so he’s going to be. He doesn’t want to retire, so he won’t.
And he can’t see that Calibot is right. He already has what he needs.
Moreover, Zod is too selfish to do something for anyone else. Despite being rich, he keeps his money to himself. He gives it to no one, and he wants to make more. He has no heirs, no wife. He has no legacy to leave behind. He only has his desire to have everything.
Gothemus Draco: Control of Someone Else’s Destiny
Despite being murdered in the first chapter, Gothemus is the story’s real villain. Vicia may be callous and Zod blind, but Gothemus is calculating in his selfishness. He wants control of his son’s life.
As the narrative unfolds, it becomes obvious that Gothemus has plans for Calibot. He laid them out years ago, and now, even though he is dead, he means to bring them to fruition. Calibot is constantly influenced by his father’s posthumous magic, leading him to what he fears is an inescapable outcome.
“He cast this elaborate spell, so he could give me his final instructions on how to get the Eye of the Dragon.” [Calibot said.] “He put all this thought into this careful strategy for me to get my ‘birthrights.’ But he never said, ‘I love you.’ He never said, ‘I’m proud of you.’ He didn’t even say goodbye!
“And now he wants me to use this stupid magic sword to break into his tower to retrieve another artifact. I don’t know what it’s for. I don’t know what to do with it, but, by the gods, I have to get it and make sure it doesn’t fall into the hands of his brother or the gnome they stole it from.”
“He didn’t know me. He didn’t care to. He let me walk away and was glad to see me go. He rejected me because of who I was.”
Here’s the real crime. Calibot wanted to be (and became) a poet, not a sorcerer like his father wanted. Thus, not only were the two estranged for five years prior to Gothemus’s murder, Gothemus uses his posthumous magic to interrupt Calibot’s life and try to manipulate him back onto the path Gothemus desired.
Gothemus Draco doesn’t care what his son wants for himself. Gothemus only knows what he wants Calibot to do, and he tries to take control of him to force him into it.
It is the most selfish act in the entire novel. Not only does it cause considerable anguish for Calibot, it completely undoes the balance of power Gothemus and Zod so meticulously set up.
Selfishness is one of those sins that causes a lot of harm — both foreseen and unexpected. It therefore is a terrific trait for the kind of villain readers love to hate.
The Sword and the Sorcerer is available now in eBook and print formats. Click on the links below to purchase a copy. Twenty percent of the sales benefit Freedom to Marry, the campaign to win marriage equality nationwide.