The Big Idea: Veronica G. Henry
Behind every good villain is a great henchman. Yet, we never seem to hear much about these evil sidekicks. Author Veronica G. Henry decided to tackle this problem herself in her newest novel, Bacchanal. Discover what being a villain’s minion is all about in her Big Idea.
VERONICA G. HENRY:
Heroes? Every book, film, and fireside fable’s got one. And villains? Too many vile, despicable, ill-tempered examples to name. Heroes and villains get all the glory, and rightfully so. Stories wouldn’t exist without them. But there are other characters, perhaps less glamorous, but equally worthy of our attention. One of those characters is the villain’s minion.
Picture the 1930s south. The Great Depression. A traveling carnival . . . but not one powered by finicky electricity. Those were the seeds for what would become my novel, Bacchanal. All I needed to populate this world was a suitably malevolent cast of characters.
At this point, I had no idea who the protagonist was. The antagonist hadn’t even entered my consciousness. But the minion, he made himself known. I was researching mythical African creatures. In Zaire (current day Democratic Republic of The Congo) folklore, the eloko (or biloko) are restless spirits. They come back from the grave as dwarf-like creatures. Their bodies sprout grass instead of hair, they have dog-like snouts, and let’s just say, they don’t hunt forest creatures.
I scrawled a journal entry where he grudgingly introduced himself. We sat down, chatted, he even took a swipe at me with his claws. This character became so prominent, so insistent, that I wrote a short story about how he came to be such a surly sort. Eloko, my antagonist’s minion, was born and his story was later published in FIYAH magazine.
Whether you prefer the term minion or sidekick, their role serves several important purposes. Ally is a given. Other possibilities: confidant, errand person, spy. But where the minion can really shine is in the role of part-time adversary. After all, like your entire cast of characters, the minion wants something and at times, that goal can be in sharp contrast to the villain’s.
In essence, this character will serve to balance and sometimes, oppose the antagonist. In Bacchanal, Eloko is selfish, often ambivalent, and ambitious. He is devoted to Ahiku, but not so much that his own interests are always secondary. It is through him that we learn more about Ahiku’s motives and her weaknesses. So how should you go about crafting your own minion?
The secret sauce:
- A good backstory, usually a troubled one. This character has made a choice to align himself with the villain. And there are reasons for that. Explore your minion’s history and you find the reasons for that choice.
- Interaction with the protagonist. In order for the minion to reach his full annoyance level, they have to become a threat or at a minimum, a thorn in the side of the protagonist. How much and when, depends on the author.
- Relationship with the villain. There has to be a meaningful, if not troubled relationship with the villain. Determine the dynamic of this relationship. Explore the power struggles, because ultimately, your minion may want to usurp the villain. Which leads me to the last point.
- A goal – decide early on, what your minion wants and have them use every trick in their arsenal to achieve it.
One thing for certain, your minion should be as well developed as the antagonist they support. Bacchanal is a book about people who don’t belong anywhere else and the compromises they make to continue existing in a time where that existence is tenuous. They are flawed, funny, and mainly, just trying to survive. And in the midst of it all, Eloko, stirs up trouble at every turn. He was a blast to write.
And that, my friends, is The Big Idea.