A villain love interest fit the storyline of Waxing Dark. Vesper ended up as something of a male Wednesday Adams—with dubious morality. He seems perhaps disinclined to save his paramour, perhaps even willing to orchestrate her demise. Nice! Conflict—story fuel.
A Strange Commonality
A lot of books avoid the villain love interest path when it presents itself. They choose a path of lesser conflict—at least when it comes to the topic of the heart. There may be wisdom here—the reader market does seem to favor prince charming more often than not. So its a solid choice to make. But it isn’t always rewarded—sometimes readership rejects what you might expect them to embrace. They don’t wan’t prince charming—why? That’s what I want to examine. Why does an audiance sometimes not opt for Superman or even Clark Kent? I’ve felt it too. When watching Smallville, Lex Luthor seemed to have equal or sometimes much greater appeal.
Perhaps the enthusiasts for the bad boys would have more insight. Romance writers have been all about “Tall Dark and Handsome” for the longest time. But I’ve noticed a trend, stories that opt for the dark path often seem to omit the white knight. This might be due to well-founded concern that some fans might fall for the wrong guy. You don’t want to disappoint your readers.
Romance has stronger rules than other genres to protect reader hearts. Romance writers have constructed a safe space for their readers to feel passionately. Those readers may be letting themselves feel more deeply in-story than they would anywhere else. That puts a heavy burden on Romance writers to never betray them. Therefore, in the Romance genre, if you are choosing a less common path you want to make sure your readers identify the right love interest to fix their hearts on. The safest way to do this is to eliminate confusing competition. If there are multiple love interests and one’s the white knight, the readers can safely assume the protagonist is unlikely to choose the dark pants—especially if he’s portrayed as more of a true villain.
Dark Pants Never Trumps Light?
But that’s unfortunate. Literature should be a safe space, not only for our hearts to be happy, but for them to explore. Where but in fiction can we really live dangerously? In books readers should be able to dive into relationships they wouldn’t otherwise dare and find less troden paths. Reject the expected, deeper character arcs take root in the ruin of our expectations. If we smash the castles of convention perhapse our protagonists can build something better suited to their needs from the rubble. Beyond the borders of the Romance genre streatch vistas of the human heart less visited in fiction, but not for lack of fodder. One such possibility is the villian love interest.
I’m not writing Romance in the genre sense. Therefore, I’m not guaranteeing my readers that their hearts will be safe. Fantasy and Science Fiction authors frequently seek all kinds of squicky conflict and appalling circumstances to afflict their characters. These days more of it is coming from the arena of the heart.
So why the aversion to the villian love intrest? Especially, in long-running series where the author is well aware that their fan-base has a strong preference for the protagonist to toss out their scripted lame love interest and go for the darker path?
Strong emergent plot is like finding an outcrop of raw red corundum blocking your path. Hard to deal with? Very. But it’s treasure we’re talking about. If you’ve got a ruby road block, do you just stay focused on striving to bypass it to get to your planned destination? Or do you toss your plans, break out the pick-axe and change your profession posthaste?
The Villain Left Out In The Cold
But a lot of people persist in bypassing this plot—despite fan blogs, despite what’s got to be the slog of writing lackluster love interests. Why? Things that perplex me are my own unplanned gemstone detours—I mine them for theories. So lets break some belligerent boulders open and see what we find shall we?
“Draco in Leather Pants” is the name T.V. Tropes gave to the concept of a villain who has—unintended by the author—attracted the romantic interest of fans—becoming a villain love interest. They see him as almost an anti-hero, and want him to become the focus of the romantic storyline. They may even be more interested in him than the intended protagonist… This can be quite a problem for an author. But is that all it can be?
Could You Plan for Your Villain Love Interest?
Could you leverage this rabid devotion in your audience? This kind of fanatic fanbase is exactly what you want as an author—it’s just off-putting when its directed at an unexpected character. But should it really be so unexpected? The recipients are almost always Malfoyesque—jerks, they say the things other people don’t dare, they may even have reasons. They are young and brooding—they wear a lot of black. Seriously, are you telling me that it shocked you when this guy got a following?
I have a theory that this archetype is actually a desirable element in your fiction. I’m going so far as to deliberately court him. In my own works in progress Vesper Ending, The No Hope Misanthrope, and The Grin Reaper should all trigger this trope—that’s not a bad thing.
You Can Predict Your Villain Love Interest, So You Can Use Him
Hey, this guy uses others—turnabout is fair play.
So how would you take the brooding jerk and make use of him? Well, fans want him to be your love interest, even if he’ll be a villain love interest. Is that really such a bad thing? It’s easy to give them what they want. Just resist the temptation to reform him. Readers would like to watch him stomp some fools, and say the cutting remarks he is oh so good at. You don’t want to nerf his jerk qualities too much or no one will take him seriously. But there are other options. After stringing us along and being an unrepentant douche, your villain love interest can eventually swoop in to save the day. This works best when that bastard is really most needed—think Han Solo.
Stretch Your Writerly Flexibility
Are you really so determined to keep your cardboard brooding jerk in his stereotypical role? Are you doing it to spite those fans you weren’t planning on? That’s rather petty when you think about it. Wouldn’t you rather be a strong enough author to roll with it and make your work a lot more popular with relatively little effort?
But—then my boring intended love interest is left out in the cold.
Forcing your characters or your fans to go out with someone they don’t want to is… Well there’s some not so nice terms for that in the real world. Plus, this is a great opportunity to write an interesting provocative partner to unbend your straight-laced originally intended love. Now you’ve got two unconventional couples for the price of one!
So You Have a Draco in Leather Pants
But you could have predicted this villain love interest problem—and if you are still in the planning stages why not make choices that have utility and a bit of wickedness? So you see Draco on the horizon. Or perhaps your intended love interest is just shaping up really cardboard—so much so that they might inspire your readers to rebel and go grasping after any alternative who presents themselves.
Rock Those Leather Pants
Time to take out your cardboard pants character and trade them in for leather—black brooding leather. Plot will follow those tight leather clad threws closer than a frisky housewife. Your villain love interest is not a problem. Statistically the majority of your readers are female—so don’t worry, your fanbase should thrive. They might start stalking you, demanding the sequel. But don’t worry, you’ll survive—maybe a bit more harried, but just remember delighted rabid legions are far more survivable than disappointed ones deserting your books.
But I Don’t Want to Perpetuate Stereotypes
Then don’t. Are you telling me that you’re such a poor writer that you’re not up to the challenge of fixing this? So leather pants is now your love interest—don’t leave it there. Leaving it there would be a mistake. Either he’s still a jerk which won’t be good for your readers, or your villain love interest is now suddenly not not villainous—which is questionable, and no longer as satisfying.
Coopting This Guy Isn’t Simple—And Shouldn’t Be
However you have options—so many good options.
Go all Gone with the Wind on It
Show how much of a mistake it was to love this guy. If you believe villain love interests are rakes—then prove it. Make your protagonist regret her choice of dark suave and handsome. Have her go through the aftermath and then try to assemble a new life.
Go all Character Evolution
Take it for an authentic rocky road of character evolution—give your villain love interest some nice reversals in fortune and morality. Don’t make his good-guy conversion stick, don’t make it quick. Mad Max anyone?
Go Kill that Guy
The simplest way to handle this is “after his shocking reform and their one blissful night together—kill him.” Think Cruel Intentions.
Go Kill that Girl
The least expected approach but a great way into a twist is instead of kill the guy after their one night together why not kill the girl? This sets you up for double awesome. A great revenge story, where your villain love interest can revel in black vengeance. While, at the same time, you get a great “I must live the rest of my life as a memorial to her” kind of story. This tragedy helps root why his change of character stuck—giving it a lot more authenticity. Think The Crow.
Vengeance is Yours—Not His
If Draco wants to take over your story take him up on it. And then take out your spleen on him. In the right way of course, the way of a writer, the way that even a Draco would fear if he knew what he was getting into. That’s the value of those leather pants, where they stride, pain and plot follow. So let them strut, then make them dance.
He’ll be glowering back at you, which should warm the cockles of your heart. There’s nothing like a character pissed off at you to sooth your writerly discontent. You ruined my outline—well I ruined your life!
Filling Draco’s Pants—The Villain Love Interest Isn’t Easy
But he’s so worth it.
Seriously, if you’re looking to write something archetypal—something that will have people talking for years, or even decades—then the villain love interest is the way to go. Craft some black leather pants—tailor them, give them shiny steel rivets, or even spikes! Gird his loins and send him into battle. Don’t make it easy for him, make him bleed, make those closest to him bleed.
The villain love interest does not wear comfortable pants. But that just makes your readers want to get into them all the more. When the sun goes down, and it’s your book they pick up—that’s what matters. So give your readers what they want—they’ll love you for it.