(The above drawing by Felicia Cano is the best match to my imagination of Umbridge that I have come across)
I would offer that J.K. Rowling’s Dolores Umbridge, of Harry Potter fame, is the best literary villain I have ever encountered. From her smug condescension to her self-righteous superiority, I cannot think of an antagonist who has been more, well, antagonizing. A huge part of that is how much depth Rowling gives Umbridge. It is brutally clear that Umbridge believes herself to not just be right, but wholly, completely, and utterly right without even the tiniest tinge of possibility of being wrong. Rowling of course does it deftly, bringing you to share our hero’s loathing of the woman without ever actually saying, “Umbridge is a horrible person.”
She doesn’t tell us the kind of person Umbridge is, she shows us.
For me, this is where my writing tends to fall flat. I find myself in a catch-22 because I find some of these personalities so frustrating that I can’t understand them. And because I can’t understand them, I can’t create a character to capture it, even when it is the perfect personality for an antagonist.
Hence my exercise Friday. Truth be told it was hard to write. I had my favorite beta-reader look over it again, my ex-wife, and while she helped me tighten it up some, I knew I had missed the mark. In many ways a misogynistic dudebro is both easy and difficult to capture. Easy, because their reactions are always guided by their bigotry. Difficult because my exploration of him was both too little and too much. It was too much in that he came across more of a generic ass, instead of a specifically sexist one. Too little in that I know the glimpses into his head a but a smidgeon of the darkness that pervades such individuals. (If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is dip a toe or two into the ugly, sexist morass that seethes under the monicker, “#GamerGate.”)
So I think the experiment was successful in that I conveyed who he was, and I now know I have more work to do in order that my readers can satisfactorily hate my villains.