God Bless the Villain

(First published on ThanetWriters.com on 2017/05/09 by Connor Sansby)

Let’s play a game. Imagine your favourite villain. Darth Vader, Sauron, The Joker? Now, make them a hero.

Every truly great villain is the hero in their own story, it’s just a matter of how you look at things. Sauron can be a charismatic leader, promising to unite the ugly races of Middle Earth against the oppressive, beautiful races. Darth Vader is a tempering force to the Emperor, locked in servitude as he finds a way to overthrow him and bring back the love of his life. The Joker is a left-wing anarchist, trying to destroy a system shown to be corrupt and unjust, full of autocrats and fiends, while a vigilante tries to desperately sow back together the fabric of a society that made him and his family billionaires at the expense of the people.

The same goes for heroes, they should all be villains from a different pair of eyes. Luke Skywalker is an insurgent partnering with a smuggler and a royal who refuses to carry out her legal duties. Gandalf is a Machiavellian manipulator attempting to overthrow a ruler using spies and forcing others to do his bidding. Batman is a vigilante who believes his wealth puts him above the law.

This is how people are, we’re not pillars of morality or heinous monsters. We are everything. It’s just a matter of perspective.

If you make your villain a monster, you’ve not created someone we’ll hate. You’ve created a character we’re bored by. Being super-super-evil isn’t a motivation, it’s the result of backstory. Even Hannibal Lector had a good side.

Frequently, I write whole casts of characters that are horrible people. I don’t ask anyone to love them, I ask that you sympathise with them. There are parts of real people trapped inside the depths of each character, so that what they do, they do for honest reasons. There is nothing true about the purest angel, but the flawed man trying to do right is honest and it is real and most of all, it’s how we all see ourselves when we take a real look at us. “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good,” is a classic line because it’s one of the most honest lines of a song ever and it should inform your villains and heroes every step of the writing process.