“We often find the hero and villain have the same goal, but are using different methods to reach it.”
That quote was used in a panel of writers talking about anti-heroes and villains at the annual North Texas Teen Book Festival. All the authors had one thing in common: they’d written tales with the villain – an anti-hero – as the protagonist. They explored the reasons why they had chosen to write stories from the “bad guy’s” point of view, and went over their favorite villains and anti-heroes.
I have two favorite “villains” about whom the above quote happens to be true. One is from a book series, and one is from an anime. *spoilers ahead!* Not every villain has to share a goal or vision with the hero, but oftentimes adding comedic (or tragic) irony to the conflict in your story causes it to have greater depth and complexity.
Here are two of my favorite villains:
The Queen of Attolia
In Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series, the Queen of Attolia is terrifying to both the main character, Gen, and to readers for the atrocities she inflicts on him. She’s ruthless and smart, and determined not to let her country (and by proxy herself) fall to an outside power. Unfortunately, her method for keeping the Mede Empire from declaring war on her is to go to war with her neighbors: Gen’s country. The conflict should be the threat of the Medes, but instead it’s Attolia’s methods. The tragic irony is, fighting against each other makes them all more vulnerable to outside invasion.
Her moments of vulnerability (sometimes seen through Gen’s eyes) make it obvious there’s a lot more to her character than we’re allowed to see, though most readers tend to hate her after certain events in book two. The mystery of her character builds up reader interest to know her backstory (which is amazing!)*
My other favorite villain is Zechs, a side character in the anime Gundam Wing who eventually becomes a linchpin in the plot. He seems to betray everyone: allies, friends and family. At times it feels like he picks up reasons to betray people from passing strangers, but when it finally is revealed that his country was invaded and his pacifistic royal family was murdered for not taking sides in a war, it makes sense of all his senseless actions – even if you can’t condone them.
Even his goal – to eradicate war by making a war so horrific all people will become pacifists – doesn’t make him a good guy. But despite all the killing, you find yourself liking him, because he has so much charisma and drive. His plan is an understandable, if flawed, way to deal with what he sees is wrong with the world. The tragic irony is that those who are fighting against him want the same thing – an end to wars.
So what kind of villain are you writing into your story?
You don’t have to write a Darth Vader level baddie, but adding depth to your villain’s character and motivations are only going to enhance your story. Give him a back story that makes sense of his crooked crusade or her odd plans for world domination. Make sure he has real allies – people who either believe in what he’s doing or who choose to be beside her despite their evil goal. Choose a good human trait to make them personable, or even likeable.
Is their goal reasonable and believable? If the reader and hero don’t feel that the villain truly poses a threat to life, freedom, or whatever happens to be his aim, then why does the hero need to fight against them? What if they’re related, or share a common past? What made one decide to walk the “villain” road, and what made the other choose the “hero” road? How did the villain manage to get to a place of power/influence to be a threat? You may need to invest just as much thought into the how and why of your villain as your hero requires.
Share your thoughts and ideas below!
Katie, signing off
*By the end she’s no longer a villain character, but for book one she is definitely the main antagonist.