The Chess Game

You know what I hate in a book?  Lame villains.  I loathe them with the burning passion of a thousand suns.  They suck.

Luckily, I’m far from alone in that, so writers really do try to make their antagonists interesting.  Some do it better than others, however.

For example, Lord Machado from Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International is a great example.  He’s powerful, ruthless, and competent.  All three things make him formidable, especially to an everyman hero like Owen Pitt.

James Bond often has to tangle with power of a different sort on his adventures, but despite having the British government backing him, he’s still just one man taking on an army of minions who answer to a diabolical mastermind.

Something you see in all the best villains, however, is competence.  They don’t make stupid decisions as a general rule, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

The powerful opponent is useless if he’s an idiot.  The protagonists’ victory over him or her is meaningless if a rabid chia pet with ADHD could beat him.  There’s no real threat because, literally, anyone could have done what our heroes have done.

For myself, I like a chess match between hero and villain.

Since I’m generally a pantser, when I get into the mind of the villain, I try to make intelligent decisions based on the knowledge the villain has.  For me, this does a few things.

One, it adds conflict.  Now, the protagonist has to adjust his perfect plan because the landscape has changed.  The hero needs to break into the building containing the needed data?  Well, he’s seen outside and the data is moved, undoing all of his risky work casing the place.

All of this makes the story interesting and, in my opinion, believable.

Two, it adds depth to the character.  Responding to what each other does then forces the characters to show more of themselves.  For example, my hero does something and the villain’s henchman misses it.  Now, the villain is having to play catchup.  How does he react to this?  Does he throw a tantrum, or is he actually understanding?  Maybe he actually likes the challenge of having a worthy adversary.

To me, it’s easier to add depth to a character when the opportunities present themselves through the story, rather than wedged in some other way.

Finally, I like playing the chess game because it keeps the plot from becoming simplistic.  I tend to like my heroes, and it’s easy to give them a pass, to let everything happen easily.  By creating the chess game within the story–especially since often, my antagonists aren’t able to be more “powerful” than the protagonists–I make the character have to actually work at completing the task.

The best plots have twists and turns, and this is how *I* personally add them in.

Of course, I’m not someone who pretends he understands anything and everything about the craft, and I’m more than willing to hear what you guys think.

Do you have characters play an elaborate “chess game” with one another?  If not, how do you keep the plot interesting rather than simplistic?


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