Well. Spring Break is just about here, which means extra writing time! Today, I have a very fun post about my favorite type of character.
If you’ve spent any amount of time reading fandom blogs, you know how much fans love villains. Don’t ask me why; it’s just a fact that we love to fangirl over Mr. Bad Boy. I’m the same way–have I mentioned how much I love Moriarty?
Maybe it’s just a trend, but regardless of the reason fans are so enamored with villains, writers can utilize this fun little fact to add in some extra tension and emotion. There are several ways to do this–today I’m going to go over a few of them, and show how they work with some examples of well-known villains. Plus, that gives me an excuse to fangirl over them.
The Redeemed Villain
Oh, redeemed villains. My weakness. I don’t think I have to do any explaining here… a redeemed villain is simply a character who comes into the story as a villain, and by the end, they have changed from their evil ways. I’ve written a couple of those myself.
Now, it’s very easy to slip into clichés when writing redeemed villains. But when pulled off the right way, an audience can go from completely hating this character to crying over them. Redeemed villains offer so much opportunity for tragedy, made all the more potent by the fact that we started off (presumably) hating this character.
A famous example of a redeemed villain is Darth Vader. Anakin’s journey to the Dark Side, and his eventual redemption to the Light, makes for a classic character arc.
The Tragic Backstory Villain
How many of these do you see every day? It seems as if Tragic Backstory Villains are so common, they elicit annoyance rather than empathy, and definitely not fangirls. But when done the right way, a tragic backstory can be a powerful tool.
You see it in heroes all the time… which, again, can become cliché. But a common technique is to have your villain be a mirror of your main character. Think of Tom Riddle and Harry Potter. Or the Doctor and the Master. Similar backstory, very different outcomes. This can often be a very haunting facet of a story, actually, and when done creatively and proficiently, is a powerful emotional tool.
The Villain with Human Needs
All I’m saying is… that until we understand that our enemies are also human beings… we will never defeat them. Yes, they are bad guys, but that is what they do, not who they are. -Maxwell Smart, Get Smart
Villains are people, too. Just like your hero, they have emotional and psychological needs. And when these needs are not met, a void is created.
Some of my favorite villains of all time are so fearsome and evil to begin with, when all along, all they needed was for one of their needs to be met. Oftentimes this need is love, but it doesn’t have to be that.
Have I mentioned Erik before? Well I’m going to mention him again. The Phantom is one of the most fangirled-over villains of all time. In the end, even though he was creepily stalking Christine throughout the entire story, even though he killed a bunch of people and blew some stuff up and ruined a perfectly good chandelier… all he wanted was for someone to love him. For someone to look past his physical deformities and accept him. And when Christine did that, fangirls’ hearts everywhere melted, and Erik suddenly didn’t need to be villainous anymore.
This can sometimes be more effective when we get to see the aftermath. What happens to the villain after his need is met? What does the hero do?
The “Let’s Play a Game” Villain
Ooooooooooooohhhhh my favorite.
Moriarty. Moriarty all the way. What is it about villains who play games? Why are they so likable? I’ve written a couple of these too. These villains add a whole new level of creepiness, because while normal villains would just kill the hero (or whatever it is that they’re trying to do), these villains take risks by playing games.
Villains who prefer to compete intellectually with the hero are obviously a bit more dangerous. Because they believe they are better, stronger, or smarter than them–and they are going to prove it. Tire the hero out before they move in for the kill.
The Villain who Acts like a Hero
Who are the heroes we remember?
Fangirls love a good hero-has-to-sacrifice-himself-to-save-the-day trope. I could go into why exactly, but that’s a whole other story for a whole other time. The fact is, one of the the most heroic things the protagonist can do is to sacrifice himself for the good of others.
So. Beware of any villain who would die for their cause. That is the mark of a truly evil man. A villain who is willing to sacrifice himself for his cause and not live to see the fruits of his work is perhaps the most fearsome villain out there. Because most villains are completely selfish and will stop at nothing to rule the universe or whatever it is that they’re trying to do. But a selfless villain? A villain who would give his life for something greater than himself–however evil that thing may be?
Be careful with this one and use it sparingly. It’s hard to pull off well, and fangirls might be disappointed you killed their favorite villain. (I’m lookin’ at you, Sherlock writers… and don’t even get me started on my Moriarty’s-not-really-dead theory.)
The Snape Syndrome
I believe I’m the first one to coin that term, by the way. The Snape Syndrome is exactly what it sounds like, and I’d like to warn you against it, for one reason: J. K. Rowling already did it, and now no one else can do the same.
Now before you throw a big hissy fit about the fact that I’m classifying Snape as a villain, hear me out. Because I don’t think he’s a villain. My official stance on Snape is that he is an antagonist–yes, I know he ended up being a good guy in the end, but Harry spent years thinking he was truly a villain, and no matter how heroic his death was, that doesn’t excuse all those years he spent being absolutely horrible to Harry. Got it? Good, I’m glad we cleared that up.
It’s fine if you want to have a double agent in your story. It’s fine if you want them to act absolutely horribly towards the hero. And you can and should give them a motivation for it. But please. Don’t attempt to justify their actions and make it seem like they were right. It makes me so mad when people try to justify Snape’s Most Horrible Action (<–you know what I’m talking about). Regardless of whether or not they were right, that does not change the role they played in the previous parts of the story. Even if they have a heroic end–Snape is actually an example of a redeemed antagonist–that doesn’t change what they did in the rest of the story.
Other Great Villains?
Guys, there are so many villains I like, I just don’t have enough room to list why I like all of them. But in the meantime, I’d like to hear who your favorite villains are! Let me know in the comments why they’re your favorite. Also, don’t forget to hop over to Wattpad and read my short story–I’ll leave it up to you to decide what kind of villain it has. 😉