Anatomy of a Villain - Philosophies Going into the Next Oz Outing
As the call of Oz thunders again and this scribe's pen seeks the surface of parchment, it dawns on me that I am beginning to enter new territory -- not just for this series, but for myself as a storyteller. Up to this point and three books deep into an arc that is destined to reshape the nature of the realm, the dangers have typically been supplied by pre-existing villains (i.e., a wicked witch, the Crooked Wizard, Old Mombi, etc.). Occasionally there are new faces representing antagonism (the Silent Menace and the Anti-Rainbow) but they have been at the service of incident: engines that drive the plot towards other avenues rather than revolving primarily around themselves. I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore the facets of whatever villainy means in Oz, but now I'm on the precipice of a new challenge. The fourth book's primary antagonist will be an entirely new character, and unless he or she can be a compelling lightning rod for the reader's ire, I run the risk of weakening the pitch of my narrative.
Think about how essential villains have become in our stories. They reflect the dichotomy of experience, reminding us that for every successful persona that is created by the cultural zeitgeist, there are often several casualties that go unnoticed. Some of them are merely unfortunate, others sad and pathetic. Those that demand our notice are usually acting out from a place of personal catharsis, and a rarer few have taken their madness down the avenue of complete and utter chaos. Those are the irredeemable beings, the ones who have gone so far into the abyss that they have ceased any attempts to find their way out of it.
As the treatment for the fourth novel comes together, I teeter between two extremes. I don't want this villain to entirely lack conscience, yet too much of it moves them closer to the category of empathetic. Their strength lies in their mysterious nature, their weakness in the lack of foresight of others. The Emerald City has become shut off from the world, obscured even to those who seek it -- including its potential magical saviors on the outside. That gives the wrongdoer a rare opportunity to easily alter the emotional temperature of the people. Commoners are rendered helpless. They are attracted to the rage without realizing its poisonous influence. And the ones who choose to fight, to counter the mischief head-on, place themselves in a danger that has no just explanation.
I owe my readers the courtesy of a compelling scenario. A new character is a hard sell in material that has long established a fanbase. It is our nature to prefer the familiar. The new faces who have come about in the earlier volumes have thankfully been met with favorability, but none of them have taken the kind of center stage the next offender will demand. Will that person deserve the spotlight? Will he or she possess all the essential qualities that can evoke the dramatic necessities of the premise? Baum and Thompson's Oz mythos has supplied more than enough adequate protagonists to counter the impending offense. The trick, now more than ever, is in matching them up against someone who is worthy of their fight. Someone who is modern and sophisticated without being too beyond the realm of Ozian possibility. A delicate balance must be struck, but the road ahead suggests there are ample opportunities to strike gold.