It probably says something about me that the only board game I own is Villainous. In this game, each player is a Disney villain trying to achieve a unique objective while sabotaging their opponents along the way. Mayhem and merriment typically ensue.
Now that Denver is on lockdown until at least April 10, I've been looking into expanding my game collection. When I started creating my list, I knew I wanted to pick up the Villainous expansion that includes Scar from The Lion King. When I found that expansion on Amazon, I discovered that one of its other characters is Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective.
Years ago, I stumbled across a book called something like The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Characters. The entry for Ratigan mentioned that his voice actor, the late Vincent Price, "was clearly enjoying himself." That really struck me. The next time I watched the movie, I could definitely see (hear?) what the author meant. Ever since, I've delighted in finding those moments, particularly in live theater, in which you can tell the actors are having a ball. It makes the performance even more fun for me as an audience member.
So why not do similar things with our characters?
Sometimes authors write as if their characters, particularly villains, do things just because that's what the story demands of them. That's How to Write a Cardboard Cutout 101. Real people have feelings about what they do and why they do it, and so should your characters. So let your readers in on the secret. Show the hero's amusement when they play a practical joke on a friend. Show the villain's satisfaction in completing a complex step in their plan. (Use mustache-twirling with care, however. It's really easy to go overboard and make your villain cliché, unintentionally ridiculous, or both.) Let everyone see your characters enjoying themselves.
How exactly do you do this without just having someone say (to borrow a line from Ratigan), "Oh, I love it when I'm nasty"? Use a few well-chosen details. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a great resource for this, with tons of ideas for physical signals, internal sensations, and mental reactions.
If you'd like further help with this, book a consultation call with me so we can figure it out together.
(Thanks to MI PHAM for sharing their work on Unsplash.)