How far should a writer journey into an antagonist’s mind? How far should they go in presenting this on the page?
I don’t think anyone is going to dispute that fact we need to know the antagonist’s backstory and motivations in order to construct the story. But how much to present?
I personally love writers who give you the full viewpoint of the bad guy. That was one of my frustrations with writers such as Tolkien, where the ultimate bad guy remains little more than a dark cloud on the horizon over Mordor, and the menace of a floating eye glimpsed for a moment from an old stone chair. Can you imagine LoR where you get to see inside Sauron’s mind?
David Gemmell loved to get inside the villain’s head. I always enjoyed his exploration of the bad guys thinking process, where evil acts were often rationalized as the sensible choices made by any rational man -- how there was no good or evil, no ultimate morality, only power and weakness, and those with the strength to do what the weak feared. The sort of reasoning that appeals to psychopaths. Great stuff.
For me it always heightened the final conflict, to see the good guy and the bad guy coming at each other, both inside their minds, and also in the story. An inevitable pair of tangents that had to intersect spectacularly. And when the bad guy took his last gasp and uttered a few fateful words – you knew exactly where these sat in terms of his thinking.
I tend to always give my bad guys a good slice of PoV, not too much -- usually around 5% of the story – but a like to get inside their heads. I like to think this increases the sense of menace and raises the stakes for the good guy.
What are your thoughts on writing the antagonist’s viewpoint? Is the Evil Overlord better as an unknowable mystery? Or do you like to see the dark mechanics of his twisted mind?