I think I’ve figured out what I need to do to fix the ending of the book I’ve been working on. At least, I have a general sense of the problem and a few ideas of what I can do about it that I need to think about more. And it comes down to something that’s a regular problem for me: offstage villains. This is something that’s begging for a direct confrontation with the villain, and yet the heroes are just doing something on their own that’s a struggle but that has no direct opposition or confrontation.
I even figured out early on that the real villain isn’t someone this heroine could directly oppose. He represents a system/society that the heroine opposes, but he’s not someone the heroine can come face-to-face with and defeat, and in doing so show that she’s truly learned all the lessons she had to learn throughout the book. So, I created a secondary/subordinate villain who is someone she can oppose directly. He’s a representative of the big villain who is in the heroine’s direct orbit, someone who’s more or less a peer, so she can say the things to him that she’d want to say to the big villain.
And what did I do? I kept him mostly offstage, and then he disappears entirely at the midpoint of the book.
I have a real problem with villains. The thing is, I don’t find them interesting at all. I don’t care about their sad backstories, their motivations, or their goals. If they’re hurting people, I want them stopped, and if they can be stopped by the heroes being clever and subverting them rather than confronting them directly, so much the better. The less time we spend with villains, the happier I am. I want them out of my life (and the characters’ lives). I’m up for a redemption story, in which the villain realizes the error of his ways, regrets the evil he’s done, and works to atone, and I might be somewhat interested in a villain who’s being set up for a redemption, where during the pre-redemption phase he has a somewhat sympathetic motivation that isn’t entirely selfish, shows signs of potential for good, and shows conflict about doing bad things, and I’m horribly disappointed when villains are doing that but don’t have a redemption arc. But a villain who’s a villain? Snooze.
I may have been the only kid in my neighborhood who wasn’t at all interested in Darth Vader after the first Star Wars movie. As far as I was concerned, there was no “there” there. He looked cool and he was powerful, but that’s all there was to him. He was basically just a thug. Even the later revelations didn’t make him much more interesting, and I found his last-minute redemption to be weak and unsatisfying. Fleshing him out in the prequels made me even less interested because his turn to darkness wasn’t at all sympathetic to me.
But a good villain can make for a good story, and this story needs an antagonist, so I guess I have to find a way to make this guy interesting to me so I can keep him onstage and let my heroine thoroughly defeat him.