Villains/Antagonists Are People Too

7:00 AM



A quick note before we jump right into it: Villains and antagonists are different things. This post goes in-depth on the differences, but I'll sum it up here. Villains are out to get everyone. There is very little good left in them. They are out for destruction no matter what, and they will always oppose the hero. Antagonists are a little different. They're the 'bad guy' in the story; their goals are often the opposite of what the protagonist wants at that current moment, but they aren't always bad. They just have goals that conflict with the 'right' side of things. Make sense? Let's go.

The Dark Lord.

I don't know who came to mind when I said that, but I can guarantee that not everyone thought of the exact same person. 'The Dark Lord' is a staple in most fantasy stories; where would you be without a clear villain like that? The Dark Lord is the big baddie. He has armies and minions at his command. He wears black because c'mon, that's basically Evil Overlord 101.

Most of the time, he also has no motivation, and no personality outside, you know, destroying stuff and killing innocent teenage boys with unrealistic expectations.

He is the dark force that screws up everything for your heroic characters and shows up at the end on a black horse for some dramatic battle. You've all seen him. But why is he bad? Because reasons. Because destruction. What good is a Dark Lord if he has a past you can sympathize with, or a love for puppies, or a fondness for the color orange because it looks good with his eyes?

This is, of course, the ultimate Dark Lord. 

What I'm about to say applies to both antagonists and villains alike.

They are people too. 

"Gasp!" you say, and your eyes go wide. "But Aimee," you say, "He's the Dark Lord, not just another human being." 

Unless your 'bad guy' character is, in fact, a dragon, or a ghost, or an alien, he/she is probably a human being. And no matter how twisted and corrupted they are, human beings are, well, human. Pretty much all of us have feelings, to some extent.

I'm of the opinion that you should treat villains and antagonists exactly how you would treat any other character. In fact, you should probably be giving them special treatment! This is probably the person driving your story. It all comes down to motivation, motivation, motivation. Just like you want to know why your hero does what he does, you need to know why your villain/antagonist does what he/she does. Why do they want the hero destroyed? 'I had a troubled past and the woman I loved died years ago' is the kind of backstory we should get rid of, though. I'm not sure I can take another one of those.

Also: Villains and antagonists are allowed to have personalities, hobbies, quirks, and so on aside from being obsessed with defeating the hero. 

I mean, what the heck was your villain/antagonist doing before he/she wanted to take over the world? Who says your antagonist can't like puppies? In fact, giving them human, innocent qualities makes them not only better-developed, but scarier. This is true. I'm a lot more scared of a guy who has a loving girlfriend and also wants to take over the world than a guy who is obsessed with taking over the world because reasons

Let's look at Khan from Star Trek: Into Darkness, for example. (Possible very mild spoilers ahead.) 


Khan is a villain. He was created for war and destruction and he will always be against the heroes no matter what. He's a terrorist and a murderer who has no regard for human life in the slightest. But there's an element to him that makes us feel almost sorry for him. Not like he's justified, but we feel for him emotionally, because Khan wants to take care of the people he loves. When us puny humans threaten those people, and, in fact, try to use them against him or to threaten him into submission, he lashes out. He would kill people regardless, but this is his driving force. We feel it when he talks about 'his crew' and gets all teary. People have reasons for doing this. Ideally, villains and antagonists have reasons for doing things too.

Give your villains and antagonists personality. 

Give them pets. Give them relationships. Give them things they want to fight for. Make them artists, writers, musicians, snowglobe collectors, gardeners, geeks, whatever on the side. Give them hobbies and interests and favorite foods and favorite TV shows.

Make them human.

How do you go about writing your villains or antagonists? Do you think they should be more human, or do you like your Dark Lords? Comment away.

24 comments

  1. And once again, Aimee strikes with a perfectly-timed post to solve my writing problems. I was just wondering why my story lacked a certain *something* (and concluded not entirely incorrectly I needed more murder) and this just prompted me to take a closer look at my villain.

    I don't think I'll necessarily be giving him a more human motivation -- in fact I think I shall be writing a post shortly about the issues of villain backstories -- but more human attributes are definitely necessary. I can't see him playing with a puppy, but perhaps human emotions, human flaws. And a life outside the hero is soooo important.

    AND. I also find that intelligent villains make me happier. It makes the entire struggle more worthwhile, y'know? And the villains who are so similar to the heroes.

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    1. Pshhh, you can always use more murder. That is always the right answer.

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  2. I agree that giving villains/antagonists a human side is vital to a story's success. If a writer doesn't give their villains/antagonists a true personality, then they end up flat and boring, and no likes a flat villain, because guess what? They aren't scary because they seem so FAKE. I also like that adding a human side to villains/antagonists create contradictory emotions in the reader, which in turn creates suspense. I don't know about you, but sometimes I end up feeling really bad for the antagonist/villain while simultaneously hating him/her and that draws me further into a story. Now I just have to figure out how to replicate that in my own writing...

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    1. Yessss. I enjoy those villains I feel sorry for while hating -- I want to feel SOMETHING for them, and better yet, understand why they do what they do. That's important to me with pretty much every character and especially the big baddies. *nods*

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  3. You get 1,000,000,000 stars for this post. That is all.

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  4. You have this strange way of posting things that I need to read. Because this is the area I struggle with mostly in one of my books. My antagonist is basically lacking any personality. This was a really good thing for me to read, really useful. All my other villains/antagonists are human and have a personality and are well developed. And I think a lot of time we forget that the villains/antagonists are people too - they have a personality, fears, likes, dislikes, everything. I love this post so much. x.x

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    1. Hahaha, I'm glad I could help. XD I have this problem ALL THE TIME and I have to be thinking about it a lot, because it's impossibly easy for me to make the villain into the Dark Lord type and totally all bad.

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  5. *sidles sneakily into your blog after taking ages to find it because confusion* (btw, I'm Shar from weaving waveswords.) Anyway, I agree that villains are people too! This is so true! Like Loki, he's a good villainous villain who has actual reasons for being evil (But don't mind me, I've only watched avengers, half the winter soldier and half guardians of the galaxy. Also talked to my friend who is a major fangirl about these things.) Anyway, this was a wonderful post. This is such an insightful look at villains!

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    1. *welcomes you with chocolate for finding me* Yes, I do like Loki as a villain (although I'm not the hugest fan of him personally) because he's done very, very well in that regard.

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  6. I think villains should definitely have human-like qualities. Evil or not, they'll still prefer a certain food over another, etc. I like my villains to be a bit of a Dark Lord (you need someone to root against) with human qualities. Great post!

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    1. Admittedly I'm a fan of the Dark Lord quite often, as long as he/she also has some human in them to balance it out. Thanks!

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  7. Human qualities definitely. I've always thought the best villains are the ones that you totally get why they do what you do, but you still don't like them because they're horrible like Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender just wants to please her father and be the perfect daughter, but she's still crazy and evil. I have a villain who is manipulative, selfish jerk, but he has a wife and kid and enjoys fishing.

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

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    1. YES. I don't want to root for my villain, for obvious reasons, but I also want him to be a realistic and, I think, even relatable villain. Because nothing's scarier than that.

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  8. *three cheers for mentioning Khan!* He's one of my favorites specifically for the reason you mentioned. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch doesn't hurt anything.
    I always try to develop my villains the same way as I do every other character. It is so difficult, to make sure that they've got lives apart from the protagonist. It gets into timelines and ugh. Complicated.
    Oh, and thanks for the mention!

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    1. KHAN IS AWESOME. And not just because of Benedict Cumberbatch, although that certainly doesn't take away from it. :) Villains are complicated and I'm not the greatest at developing them myself but I think they're important all the same. *nods*

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  9. You are so right. Villains who are human, are much scarier than some cardboard, all-evil guy. I think it's because they are human, that means they are like "us" or the protagonist. You could walk by the villain/antagonist on the street. You could be standing in line at the grocery store with them. You might even smile and nod to each other when you pass. And you'd never know because this guy who is supposedly so extraordinarily evil can pass as normal (because he is normal), he's just like us. So the really, really scary part is, what's the difference between him and us?

    I tried reading a book once with an all evil baddie. But I couldn't finish it. I mean, the guy didn't even seem to have a job! How did he eat? How did he pay the electric bill? He wasn't a thief or a bank robber. How did this guy exist in society?!

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    1. Yessss. That's exactly it. I'm a little bit in love with those villains who could be us, in a way. It just seems more realistic to me, also like you said, haha.

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  10. One thing that annoys me is the villain whose only goal is to destroy the good guy. Villains really need a bigger goal than that--think world domination or destroying the galaxy. The hero is just someone who needs to be got rid of because he gets in the villain's way. If the villain's whole focus is just to kill off the hero in as spectacular and dramatic a way as possible, the whole story lacks realism. Joker from Dark Knight and Moriarty from Sherlock both fall into this category of villain and although I love them both a ton, it still annoys me.

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    1. YES! I love Moriarty as much as the next girl, but I'm also a strong supporter of villains having lives, goals, and motives outside of the hero and destroying him, as hard as that is. I'm a little fascinated with the ones who have a perfectly legitimate reason to be upset, but take it way too far.

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  11. I definitely agree—as a reader, it's usually not the protagonist of a book who captures my heart but the villain. If the villain isn't worth my time, then the book tends not to be, either. I love when villains are broad and deep and have weird, twisted minds that are beautiful and explosive and evil. They are amazing and I love them. :) Villains are people, too, and they deserve an author's attention, more than anything! I think I might stick this on my villain page on my blog, just because the truth is truth, and it must be shared. Thanks for your thoughts, Aimee!

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    1. Oh yes. Villains are one of my favorite parts of a story, although I tend to side on the side of good unless the protagonist is really stupid. :)

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