Some Thoughts on Villains

A good story needs a good villain, or is that a bad villain? From time to time, I think about how to create villains for my stories. A while back, I wrote an article on how to create heroes. Many of the same ideas apply to villains.

Recently I had the thought that the antagonist, or villain, in a story must see himself as the protagonist, or hero, and see the protagonist as the antagonist. This seems obvious once I thought of it. I’m surprised I hadn’t come across it somewhere in my reading. Many people must have had that thought before. I must just be ignorant. Maybe you can point me to something on this.

The main question writers must consider about the antagonist is why he, or she, is so evil. No real person wants to be evil, so it must be that the antagonist must see what he or she does as good. They only seem evil from the perspective of the protagonist, and, we hope, the reader.

In a more general sense, we can see the two opposing characters have goals that are in conflict. The writer must choose one of the two to be the hero, and write the story from his perspective.

This view does create some interesting possibilities for conflict. Would a story work if the reader does not side with either character? Could we have stories where the reader identifies with both characters?

One possible story structure is to have the protagonist and antagonist change places throughout the course of the story. I’m not aware of any stories like this. However, at the moment, I am reading the book Edgar Rice Burroughs” by Erling B. Holtsmark. In it, he mentions a case in the Martian books where, over the course of two books, one of his villains, Ras Thavas, turns into a good person.

Many writers and stories have some moral ambiguity in the characters, with the bad guy not all bad, and the good guy not all good. These stories do provide more depth and interest.

I’d like to write stories where the two sides have legitimate “good” goals, which just happen to be in conflict. Neither side is truly “bad”. The resolution would come from the realization on the part of both characters that the other has a valid goal. They must each overcome the natural tendency to see anyone that opposes them as evil.

I believe this is a more accurate description of reality. I feel somewhat egotistical when I say this, but I want to provide stories that will help readers as they make their way through their lives. A good story does more than just entertain.

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