Lately my posts have been all about the laughs (well, mostly at least). But…I have this thought…it’s been bugging me…and I am fresh out of this month’s “ideas for blog posts” (If you have any, send them over).

*takes deep breath* (prepare for a rant guys)

I feel like writers have been getting villains wrong lately. Not book wise because…honestly I’ve read one fiction book this year (guys don’t freak out on me). But in the writing hub/community I’ve read a lot of what writers have to say about writing villains/antagonists.

It starts something like this:

NO MORE CLICHES!! NO MORE MUSTACHE TWIRLING AND BLACK CAPES AND USED UP TROPES!!!!

Ok. Good so far.

THREE DIMENSIONAL VILLAINS! With motives! No more senseless slaughter or cruelty! A past! A tragic past?! Broken past! After all, they can be sympathetic! Gray areas! Even…well they have a good heart and have just been mislead. Poor misunderstood people.

WAIT WHAT.

Yeah. Yes, all of those are suitable antagonists. There are all different types of stories. Loki is a great example of a sympathetic villain.
But the other one. The “senseless slaughter and cruelty” and motives that seem less than “legit” (meaning less legit than a protagonist’s would be). It seems these kind of villains have been thrown out as “cliche” by many in the writing community.

That’s unfortunate. Because in doing so we have forgotten something, forgotten an important part of reality.

These kind of people have and do exist.

There. I said it.

I don’t know why we deny it. Maybe because it’s a reality that just seems so terrible. But just pull up the news. Get a history book out. You see it. It’s there. Evil people doing evil things.
And you sit back and wonder, why would anyone do that? How can anyone be that inhuman?

This came to my head right now particularly because I’m reading a book on Operation Paperclip (that’s when the US recruited German (ahem, Nazi) scientists with strategic value. I’m starting to wonder if they do actually have Dr. Zola on a couple thousand feet of data banks). It starts in late 1945 (the war ended in April. The war with Germany at least). Reading about slave labor, Concentration camps, and illegal experiments, put this in my head. Senseless cruelty and mass extermination is perfectly viable for a villain, because it’s been done.

I’m not saying their shouldn’t be a motive. But just remember that “hate” and “greed for power” and viable.

But….cliches? Isn’t that a legit concern? Even if the writer may know this, will the reader just think it’s cheesy??

Yes. Yes this is a legit concern. No one wants boring, cliche villains. How it is to be avoided? What makes a villain cliche?

Overused things:

Outfits. You’re villain doesn’t have to wear all black. They don’t have to live in a super scary mansion with a lot of spikes or a foreboding tower. They don’t have to a super scary name.

Now. All these things can be used. Just as long as it isn’t followed by…

Tropes:

(I’m mean, no one likes tropes). The villain not killing the hero when they totally would. Going on long rants explaining their plan. Incompetent henchmen that would never had been hired. Loopholes in their plot that just wouldn’t be there.

And another thing: villains should be scary. How do you make them scary?

Make them smart. They know what they’re doing. Make them ruthless and narcissistic. Make them stop at nothing to get what they want, no matter who they have to run over to do it (because there are people out there who are like that).

And one more thing.  People. Villains are people.

They eat. They sleep (well, most likely anyway). They have families. They go home and play cards. They drink tea. They kiss their wives and buy them shoes from Paris. They have birthdays. They wear glasses. They’re tall and thin, or short and stout. They collect specimens. They enjoy painting. They walk their dog in the evening. They hold parties. etc, etc.

I mean even Saruman had pipeweed in his cellar (though no one really knows why.)

A three dimensional character doesn’t mean relatable. It doesn’t mean understandable. They don’t have to make sense.

Yes. I just said that.  Your characters (especially villains) don’t have to make sense.

Do you understand everyone you meet? Nope. Do you understand everything about everyone you know? Nope. Do people always do things for good reasons? Nope.

This all doesn’t mean your villain can’t have a tragic past. This doesn’t mean you can’t have sympathetic villains, or villains with “almost” good motives. But honestly, when the villain starts on about their tragic past and all the horrible things that have happened to them…

I’m just like “Get over it, everybody’s life sucks.”

Because everyone has a choice, a chance to do the right thing. And yes, circumstances can hinder us, they can lower our culpability, and some people are victims.

But even if there is a gun to your head, you still have a choice.

Don’t make villains just victims of their circumstances.

Alright. We’re done here.

Peace out peeps,

Bernadette

PS. NOT DONE YET WAIT!!!

I’m also am not against redemption arcs. Redemption is very important and I want to make sure that is clear. REDEMPTION IS IMPORTANT (though…not every villain’s story ends that way).

Now I’m done.

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3 thoughts on “A Word on Villains

  1. I love this discussion, Bernadette!! It’s SO TRUE. Villains are real — unfortunately. They are people and they were born just like the rest of us. But somewhere along the line, they failed to do the good, right, and beautiful thing. I definitely think all villains should have backstory — because there is a pivotal moment for everyone, a moment that is either stark and defining or like a small drip of water on a rock over time boring a deep hole… but it is ALWAYS a choice that makes a person “bad.” Otherwise all victims would turn out to be villains ;) haha. but yes I agree they certainly don’t have to be cliche and wear all black and live in a thorny castle… muahhaa.

    ASDFGHJKL I LOVE THIS BASICALLY. <3 I'LL STOP RAMBLING NOW.

    Like

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