Showing Your Villains a little Love!
How many times have you read a book, seen a movie or watched a TV Show and loved or absolutely hated the Villain? There is nothing better than a well played, well fleshed out villain who isn’t a cardboard cutout of what evil is supposed to look like. I’ve rooted for the villains since Dracula came along. Darth Vader is my father!
As writers our villain is as important as our hero and heroine. Their story, whether told or not, is also as important.
So what makes a good villain? One that you can identify with and root for? Is it someone who resembles your junior high PE teacher? Or maybe the one who acts just like the undeserving jerk who stole your girl friend in high school? There are a lot of things that can make you love or hate a villain, but the biggest one is that they aren’t evil. They’re humanized.
One of the villains that I rooted for the most was Sweeney Todd. You say he isn’t the villain? Really? He murders people, cuts them up and makes them into pies. Sound like a good guy to you? Not so much. But let’s look at how he got to that place. His wife was taken from him, he was thrown into jail under false charges and then he finds out his wife was raped and died and his daughter is being raised by the man behind it all. All those things that happened to him, make him so sympathetic that as he’s killing people you are gleefully cheering him on! Sympathy or empathy for the villain is a great way to make people love them.
Another of my favorites is Loki. Sigh…Loki! He’s the brother of Thor. Always second best and second fiddle to his big brother with the golden hair. Yet we find out that he’s actually adopted. And not just adopted, but adopted from the one race that he’s been taught to hate and loathe his entire life. That sucks. And it makes you feel for him. He no longer has a sense of identity. Does he do terrible things, yeah, he does. But he has one of the best senses of humor I’ve ever seen. And when push comes to shove, he does the right thing–most of the time. Not always, but when it counts. On top of that, did you see the scene when he found out his mom was dead. I cried. He was devastate. He loved his mother more than anything. That right there humanizes him and makes us love him.
How about Jamie Lannister from Game of Thrones? There is a despicable man! Incest, murder, attempted murder of a child. You name it. Yet, after a dreadful injury he forms an unlikely friendship with Lady Breann. He protects her virtue, saves her life and then gives her one of the most precious things he owns. How can you not love a man like that? You know they’ve done horrible things, but deep down, he’s not a bad person. What about the Hound? He protects, Arya Stark.
So what are some things you need to make a great villain? Well, we’ve already talked about humanizing them. Every villain had a mother who loved them at one time. They have kids, maybe a spouse, people who don’t realize what monsters they are. They care for those people. Love those people. And would do anything to protect those people. Or dog, some villains just really love their dogs. Like Woody Harellson from Seven Psychopaths.
Remember, most villains don’t see themselves as villains. They think they are doing a good thing. Take Wilson Fisk, Kingpin, from Netflix Daredevil series. Wilson Fisk thought he was trying to make Hell’s Kitchen a better place. But he was actually the reign of terror in that city. Displacing old ladies, killing people who got in his way. He was the villain.
Now does that mean you can’t just have a totally sadistic twisted villain who enjoys being mean? Nope, not at all! Cough, cough–Umbridge from Harry Potter and Marie Lalaurie from American Horror Story Coven. Sadistic, twisted and loving to inflict pain. But what did they cover it up with? Smiles, jokes, pink and kittens and parties. Those are some seriously developed villains. Dumpy, unassuming, small voices, yet two of the craziest witches I’ve ever seen made into characters!
Humanizing a villain makes them real, tangible, not just a character. Give a glimpse of those intimate moments when they think no one is looking and they do something nice, caring, loving. Having an evil villain or even one who thinks that they are doing bad things for the greater good, is great, but giving us a villain we are torn about, now that is a great character!
Rebekah R. Ganiere – Books with a Bite