“Evil is relative – and what I mean by that is that our villains are as complex, as deep and as compelling as any of our heroes. Every antagonist in the DC Universe has a unique darkness, desire and drive.”
— Geoff Johns
Every story has to have an interesting protagonist, but it also must have an equally villainous antagonist. Most people think being bad is easy, but its not. We’re taught at a very young age that being evil is stupid. I remember the days of Snidely Whiplash, Boris and Natasha, and Dick Dastardly. Their plans always failed because of their mistakes.
But recently, evil has evolved. Villains are more complex, complete sociopaths that work their way to beating the good guy through intricate plans. Characters like Hannibal Lecter, the Joker, and Cersei Lannister are shown as calculating, devious beings with the utmost evil intent. Even Disney villains are becoming darker than ever. Their hearts are as black as a starless night, and yet, we are curious as to what make them tick. That is why they interest us.
Every crime drama from Criminals Minds to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit brings us a daily dose of evil to dissect their mind and their motives. We watch every day people responsible for horrors so awful we can’t stomach it, and yet we can’t turn away. It’s intriguing to some, to others, perhaps its an escape. Have you ever imagined doing something horrible to another person? Sure you have, we all have. It’s acting out on the those evil impulses that separates us from being complete sociopaths. Some have even come to be anti-heroes, those doing bad in the name of good. It’s all so confusing.
It’s the same in writing. You want to create a villain, an antagonist, that interests the reader but not one that takes the story away from the hero, or protagonist. I believe that, in order to take the morale high ground, good must always triumph over evil. Sure, evil has their victories, but in the end, they lose.
Villains are very difficult characters to create, unlike the old days where villains were obvious to all. Villains today are given a myriad of excuses and diagnosis to justify their actions. Bette Davis once said, “There are new words now that excuse everybody. Give me the good old days of heroes and villains, the people you can bravo or hiss. There was a truth to them that all the slick credulity of today cannot touch.”
In my own stories, I try to stick to the basics, relying on classic villains: Morgana le Fay and Mordred. These characters have been a part of fantasy literature. Their ideology has been both good and evil, and somewhere in between. I find it easy to use these classic characters and add my own addition of supporting villains, as it were, to blend in my own style to the story.
You don’t need the obvious villain with bad teeth and the curled mustache that is twisted and curled around his fingers. Today’s villains are smooth charmers, one that will pour out their love to you while they stab you in the back with a knife. A great example of that is Amy Dunne in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. That woman is pure evil, and you wouldn’t realize how evil until the very end of the book.
I find it challenging to decide between greedy and corrupt or calculating sociopaths. One may give way to the other, or vice versa. Although villains make being bad look easy, writing them into a story is a challenge for any author. The key is finding that balance between Captain Bligh and Adolf Hitler. It’s not easy, but essential.
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.