In the year of our Lord 2006, I was an eleven year old with too much time on my hands, a notebook, and an overactive imagination. I began to write a story and shortly after I had figured out who the heroine would be, the next step was finding the villain.
I set out to compile three characters—the Lord Argetallam, Lucan, and Malkalar—who were to cause as much hardship and difficulty for my heroine as conceivably possible. I had them be as bad as I could make them, giving them all a certain creativity when it came to nastiness and short tempers to match. Villains are, by their nature, villainous, right?
As I developed characters, grew as a writer, and explored the world, I ran into some trouble with the Lord Argetallam. He had a tragic back story and as I delved into the details of his relationship with my heroine’s mother—I found myself finding him to have an alarming number of not-bad qualities. But he was still a psychotic dictator and definitely a villain, so we were good.
When I went to write a prologue for the second book in the series—BOOM! All of a sudden, Lucan has a crush on the slave who’s nursing him back to health and feels guilty about the little girl he killed in the last book. Soon, Lucan was a boy struggling under the weight of his father’s and an entire race’s expectations, seeking approval through violence because he didn’t know another way—this was starting to get out of hand.
But at least I had Malkalar, right? The ethnocentric, genocidal bigot who wants everyone who’s not an elf dead. No way I had to worry about him getting any sympathetic qualities.
Then I started questioning his motivation for :SPOILER: rescuing the seeress Zeerla in The Key of Amatahns. :SPOILER OVER:. By the time I wrote a short story to explain that, my endeavor to create a purely evil villain had sunk like the Titanic.
The theme of relatable villains has become a fascination of mine and with the exception of some characters in a new project (and they don’t count because they are literally supposed to be the Devil and her—that’s not a typo—demons) one of my favorite parts in writing a new series is discovering all the little ins and outs of my villains. I often come to adore them as much as my heroes.
In other words, I have given up. No more purely evil bad guys. It feels sloppy now and I think a story feels more authentic if you feel sorry for the baddie *coughcoughKhanLokiRavennacoughcough* even as he/she is doing dastardly deeds. Besides, it’s just too much of a problem getting them to stay completely evil.
All of us are a balance of good and not-so-good. Depending on what we do, depends on how people see us. Apparently if you want a antagonist to be truly human they will have a flaw called goodness.
It’s a secret they have tried to keep for way too long. 🙂
Anna from Shout with Emaginette
I love Tolkien, but he and his ilk sure seem to have kept it pretty well!
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Intisar Khanani said:
Yay for complex villains! And for realizing the humanity in “the enemy.” We so totally need to move beyond Sauron psychologically; because if you realize your fantasy villains can be worth rooting for–or can at least understand that they aren’t just irrationally and totally evil–then you can also grasp the same truth for the world we live in. And that is a truth we sorely need to start living by.
Sadly, that is very true. I could go off on this tangent for hours, but we watched a documentary in Anthropology last semester about the Stanford Prison Experiment that reinforced some observations I had already made. It quite graphically showed what perfectly normal people are capable of once they see another person/group as dangerous and/or the enemy. Not obviously related, but I’m convinced it illustrates the psychological need to villainize one’s adversary. (And I’m starting to chase a rabbit now, I’ll shut up.)
Elly Gard said:
Okay, so this is one of my favorite posts.
This happened to me only recently. I had a nasty, cigar-smoking, flippant, cruel gangster for a villain and all of a sudden he became a manipulated, injured, emotionally damaged puppet who just wanted to stop people from killing those he loved.
To be a writer.
That’s GOOD, that means you’re writing him to be a complex character! 😉 It seems we all have to learn this lesson.