Bad Guys, villains, antagonists, those that stand against our heroes. Making a villain is, in theory, a simple enough affair. They should be despicable, and the polar opposite of our protagonist, right?


I suppose that is one way to go, and it certainly can, and does work. It’s easy for a villain who is the exact opposite of our hero to be evil, because if our hero is good, then their opposite is evil, right? But what if your hero isn’t the standard definition of good? What if you want a layered, complex bad guy with motivations that are not so different from our protagonist? Throughout history, very few villains have truly thought of themselves as evil, right? Most of them think, feel, truly believe that they are fighting for a just cause and that others just don’t properly understand what it is they are trying to accomplish.


How does your main character respond when their adversary is so like themselves that they can truly see what it is they are trying to accomplish? They can understand their motivations and sympathize with them, but there is still that nugget of difference between them that makes one see that the ends justify the means, while the other has morals that keep them from getting to that end because of what stands in the way.


As an example of the polar opposites, take the classic arch-rivalry between Holmes and Moriarty. Here you had two brilliant, hyper-analytical and amazingly observant minds pitted against one another. One, the perceived ‘good guy’ a force of chaos that uses his powers for justice and order, while the other, who is an extremely disciplined and methodical individual, fighting to create utter chaos. Certainly this is an incredible example of this dynamic and it leaves the reader with a very clear understanding of who the villain is even though he is using forces normally associated with ‘good’ to produce outcomes normally associated with ‘evil’.


Now, think about Eric Lehnsherr (Magneto) and Charles Xavier (Professor X). Here you have two individuals who have essentially grown up together (not from a young age, but through most of their later formative years). They both want the same thing, a peaceful world for mutants to live in. But Charles wants to help the regular people understand and accept the mutants, and vice versa, while Eric wants mutants to be the only people left in the world. They both have a deep understanding of one-another’s motivations, past, and reasoning for wanting what they want, but neither one can reconcile the morality of the other’s position. Charles because he abhors the loss of life and black or white nature of Eric’s methodology, and Eric because he believes in his heart of hearts that Xavier’s perfect world of understanding and equality can never truly exist.

Personally, I like both kinds of villains and I try to incorporate both into my stories. Sometimes the same stories. Having a bad guy that your character can truly hate… or maybe just pity, as I tend not to use the word hate in earnest, is an easy way to get them motivated and keep them engaged. These bad guys tend to be more like forces of nature and the need to stop them is obvious. But having a bad guy in the story who your protagonist can identify with, and see where they are coming from and why they do what they do can add layers upon layers of emotional investment between them, and the reader. This gives your antagonist the opportunity to develop into a real person, just as much as your protagonist can. They can come to care for one another as brothers, or extended family, even protecting or rushing to the aid of the other when someone else enters the picture to disrupt their status quo.


Like true sibling rivalry, they fight tooth and nail, disagreeing at every opportunity as they try to reach what they each see as the same goal, done the ‘right way’, but anyone else who involves themselves in their conflict is likely to get attacked by one, or both of them as an outsider to their private little affair.


In some of my villains, I have tried to blend both of these ‘evil’ archetypes into a single individual. As an example, Gregory Shantal is seen by Riana as her arch nemesis. She wants him dead and sees everything he does as a move toward chaos, even though she doesn’t yet truly understand what he is about. Externally, she sees him as her polar opposite. Chaos incarnate. Not a care in the world about anyone other than himself. But deep down, she sees much of herself in him and what he does. She feels that she could easily become him if just a few dominos fell in the right places, and she loathes that about herself. A loathing which she projects back onto him, and uses as her justification in being the only one to deal with him. Nobody else can intervene, because deep down, she is afraid anyone interacting with him, will find out how alike she feels they are…


How about you? What do you think is an important characteristic for a goof villain?


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