The Villain – More than just a bad guy
To me, the ultimate villain is Gargamel. Stooped, rotted teeth, shabby black robe, this guy tortured those poor Smurfs every single Saturday morning. But somehow, I loved him. Why? Simple. I loved seeing him lose.
Humans instinctively relish seeing good win out over evil.
Whether Gargamel was trying to eat the Smurfs, turn them into gold, or just destroy them out of anger, his constant failure gave me hope, gave me satisfaction, and made me feel like I could also beat the evil in the world.
Villains play an important role in any story. They do more than stand in the main character’s way. They do more than create conflict. They really embody the reason the main character has to fight back in the first place.
Here are three different ways they can be broken down:
The One We Love To Hate
Clear-cut good versus evil brings out the best in all of us. Gargamel. He whose name we shall not speak. Nurse Ratched. Miss Trunchbull. These people are beyond saving. And we LOVE them for it.
They’re outrageous. Which gives us, as writers, a lot of wiggle room. Often times, they don’t even have to make sense, making the same mistakes over and over again, contradicting things they’d done in the past. Ignoring laws, rules and regulations in simply unbelievable ways. It’s all explained away with… oh, well that’s just _____.
They pillage. They plunder. And often, they get away with it. They’re mean girls and boorish boys. And for much of the story, they’re safe on their pedestal. Yet, we read on.
Why? There’s probably lots of reasons. Cause… well, the fact is, being bad can be fun. So even while we aren’t cheering for them, we enjoy seeing the darkness, or the dramatics play out.
Seeing the snake in the grass is exciting. Watching it flourish can be tantalizing. It can instigate exploration of pieces of ourselves we otherwise ignore. And isn’t that the role of novels sometimes?
The Not-SO-Bad, Bad Guy
This one isn’t as clear-cut. There is debate surrounding this type of villain. Maybe they mean well, but their level of destruction has gotten out of control. Perhaps something has changed them or their perception is out of line.
These type of characters often bring up questions like:
Would you put others in jeopardy to save one person?
Should we follow our heart or our head?
DOES the end justify the means?
They often teach us, just because nothing is black and white, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a right and wrong.
They grab the reader’s interest in unique ways, because the natural internal debate they spark can often be related to other aspects of their life. Connections are made, and the characters are never forgotten.
The Intangible Villain
A storm. An illness. Things that can’t be represented by a single person, these are often the main antagonists in our stories. Whether it’s not being tall enough to reach the candy jar or fighting to get out of the shadow of depression, these “essences” take on a life of their own on the pages.
Intangible villains are powerful tools that can show deep flaws embedded in the main characters. And flaws can lead to growth as we watch our characters learn to arm themselves with different types of weapons. Acceptance. Hope. Family.
These types of villains often teach us that powerlessness does NOT mean we’ve lost. Perhaps we can’t control the weather and we can’t guarantee the destruction of cancer cells. But we can control how we handle it. We can fight. And we can win.
No matter what form (or formS!) of evil our villain’s take on, the best villains are the ones we can’t do without. And I strongly believe that our love for a good villain is representative of our desire to believe in the power of good.
“I am brave and strong and they are puny and weak, why can’t I defeat those miserable vile little Smurfs?!”
Well, my evil wizard friend, the answer is simple, because no matter how many dark magic spells you cast, YOU will never be the hero. And heros will always win.
Our characters have come a long way. They’ve been through pain, they’ve fallen. But they’ve gotten up and emerged stronger. They deserve that strength.
Our villains have meaning so that when our heroes overcome them, it’s all the more meaningful.
And our manuscripts are worth it!
Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at www.TheJerseyFarmScribe.com where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!
Thank you Erika for another great post.