It’s been a while since I saw a film that was so good I practically combusted over it. But I just saw the Dark Tower, and oh my sweet, sweet deliciously-evil villain heaven was it bloody amazing.
Now before anyone whips out their red pen and corrects this post:
ONE – This post will contain some spoilers, if you haven’t watched the film and intend to, please don’t read on.
TWO – I have not read The Gunslinger by Stephen King, that’s the book the film is based on. Therefore all comments are in relation to the movie the Dark Tower only.
I lied, there’s a third caveat, this is all my opinion. If you don’t like the Dark Tower movie, I can’t do anything about your bad taste in films. :p
Why am I talking about Dark Tower? Because it had a villain that was off the chart. And you know how I swoon over a good villain. But Walter (the villain) was also a total cliché, and yet, despite that, he worked. Like really, REALLY well. So well, that I was salivating literary story joy all over the screen.
Which means the film provides a cracking lesson on how to make a clichéd villain work:
First, what constitutes a clichéd villain?
In 13 Steps To Evil – How To Craft A Superbad Villain, I give you a whole list of clichés to avoid. But simply:
“Clichés are words, phrases, expressions or scenes that have been overused to the point they’ve become predictable and unoriginal.” p.117 13 Steps to Evil, by ME!
- The priest saying ‘Does anyone object?’ and the protagonist’s true love bursting into the church
- A villain or a witch with a ‘muhahaha’ laugh or a cackle
- And then I woke up and realized it was all a dream
Why was Walter from Dark Tower a cliché?
Cliché 1 – Black
For a start he only wore black. Not something I mind, given my fave color an’ all. But still. A black clothed villain is a cliché, even if Walter was particularly stylish and unacceptably handsome.
Cliché 2 – Lack of motive AKA evil for the sake of it
Now, I refused to believe that Stephen King wrote a book with a motiveless villain, so as soon as I got out of the movie, I googled it and discovered, that of course, in the books, he has an excellent motive. However, in the film, not so much.
Walter is one of those, evil for the sake of it villains. His mission is to destroy the tower and reign life ending apocalypse over the universe by letting in all the hell demons and beasts that are outside the universe.
Cliché 3 – A hoard of motiveless minions
There’s one thing that a dark-lord-evil-for-the-sake of it villain is great at, and that’s amassing an army of minions who do absolutely everything the villain says in fear of death, but with frankly, zero motive. It makes it a bit hard to swallow for the more seasoned plot critic.
But enough of the bad stuff. Because despite everything I just said, Matthew McConaughey nailed Walter. He was an amazing villain, and yes, that was partly because of his acting but also because the role was written well.
Here’s how he combatted the cliché
ONE – Coohey – Look Over Here…
Divert attention away from black.
Think about the weapons your villain might have, or the mannerisms, or physical features. What is it, besides the black clothing that makes your villain evil and interesting? Make those things the defining feature rather than the use of black clothing. That way the clothes become background noise in amongst your strange and quirky villain.
Walter’s got so many other features, his narcissism, his Jupiter sized ego, his disturbingly warped mindset, his ability to wield amazing powers of villainy delight and sorcery. The black clothing was practically invisible. If I hadn’t been looking for it I might not have seen it!
TWO – Hurt The Hero
Heroes need to suffer for their win.
Readers don’t give a damn whether your hero runs off with the maiden, or if he dies pulling hairballs out of his pet cat unless, that is, you make them invest in the hero’s journey.
And how do you do that? By giving the hero a character arc and having a villain that makes your hero’s life hell.
And boy does Walter make Roland pay. Walter ruthlessly kills everyone that walks with Roland and murders everyone he ever cares about or loves. Dead. ALL OF THEM. Without exception. The last of which is his father and it throws him into decades of isolation and self-loathing. GENIUS.
THREE – Target everyone’s weaknesses
Not only does Walter hit Roland (the hero) where it hurts, by killing everyone he loves. He does the same for the protagonist (Jake). Jake is a young psychic boy, and who the story is about. His dad is already dead, so to make Jake vulnerable he prays on his only weakness, the only thing he has left – his mum. Walter kills Jake’s mum and the rage Jake feels over it, sets off his psychic powers, enabling Walter to track him down.
Not only does Walter target people’s weaknesses, he does so with an unrelenting consistency that is terrifyingly brilliant. He is one bad motherfu…
FOUR – Make the villain impossible to beat unless…
…Your hero gets over their personal barrier, i.e. their character arc.
Walter IS impossible to beat. He’s stronger, more manipulative, more cunning, and more devious and the whole universe is terrified of him. There’s no way a single gunslinger (Roland) can beat him. Especially when Walter has broken Roland mentally.
Roland’s character arc is a lie arc. I’ve talked about the lie your character believes before. But Roland, in particular, believes that he is no longer a Gunslinger because his heart isn’t pure because he wants revenge more than he wants to protect the tower.
It isn’t until our cute little psychic kid helps Roland remember that he is still a Gunslinger at heart, that he’s able to make the shot that kills Walter.
And there you have it. Four ways to beat the cliché.
Have you seen the movie? What did you think? How else have you included a cliché in your book but turned it into an awesome character?
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