Note: I’m exploring this question as part of a new writing series I’m calling “Deep Character Study.”
Here’s the thing: while we all function as human beings, we aren’t always consciously aware of it. Most of the time, we just react.
To write good characters means understanding at least a little psychology and emotion; to create really intense, multi-layered characters, you need to be able to recognize the patterns humans follow.
Welcome to the series on Deep Character Study.
Villains are awesome. Everyone loves a good villain (just look at Reddit or Tumblr if you don’t believe me), but at the same time, a flat villain can ruin even a great story and lovely world-building.
I want you to write good villains. Not morally good, but toothsome. Complex. Villains who are fascinating enough to inspire psychology papers from future graduate-level students. And to that end, I ask you: what’s his or her favorite food?
Weird question, I know, but the answer is more important than you think – not only for your character, but for the entire world you’re creating.
Chocolate and Shipping Routes
Is your antagonist a person? Then they’ll have likes and dislikes, but the answer goes deeper than that. Where does that favorite food come from? Is it readily available? Do they relate it to any particular emotion from their past?
These are all questions you need to know in order to make your villain a person.
Most of us relate food we like to good moments in our lives. Victory, comfort, or just a moment of escape are all tied up with the food we like and the beverages we drink. Think about food you instinctively want to celebrate with. Your villain will have something similar. (Remember, your bad guy thinks he’s the good guy. He has reasons to celebrate, too.)
Does the food make them feel bittersweet? Joyful? Regretful? Or is it a means of escape, however temporary, from stress?
How readily available is your villain’s favorite food? Is it even purchasable or huntable in the area? Did they discover it when traveling, searching for Ultimate Power? Was it introduced via a traveling businessman who turned out to be a lousy henchperson?
Can that favorite food be purchased and stocked up? Can it be picked up at 24-hour spots like 7-11 or Circle K, or is it limited to higher-end stores, like some fancy organic grocer?
How much does it cost? Does your villain have that amount casually, or do they need to steal the money (or steal the thing itself)? Do they have to wait for it to come in on the ships that travel the ocean blue every six months?
Is that favorite thing a needed resource? Is your villain taking it from the mouths of babes, or from the elderly who need it to survive? Is anyone else being negatively impacted when they keep it for themselves?
Is that food sacred to someone? Does eating it for the sake of flavor seem sacrilegious to someone? Is it worth fighting for? Is it worth fighting a war for?
Does the enjoyment of that food set your villain apart as being from a different culture? (For the love of all that’s holy, avoid “gross other culture food” as a trope here, please.) Does it demonstrate a different background? (Example: today, your villain wears eight-thousand dollar suits and has his shoes shined by a host of fairies, but when he was a penniless child, what he loved best was simple white bread with butter. To this day, untoasted bread and butter remains his favorite indulgence, even though he has all the lobster and champagne he could want.)
What is Your Villian’s Favorite Food?
Time to analyze what’s going in in your story’s world. What is your villain’s food, and how does it impact the rest of your story? Tell me in the comments, or email me with ideas. Let’s get this conversation started.