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The video contains captions for anyone who needs them, but I’ve also included a detailed transcript below. Feel free to watch the video, read the post, or both, it’s (almost exactly) the same information either way. Thanks for visiting!
Recently I was listening to the Hamilton soundtrack (as one does) jamming out to Wait For It, when my brother mentioned that he really liked how relatable Burr was. Though Burr is technically the villain of the story, he has believable motivations.
He isn’t bad for the sake of being bad.
In fact, I’d argue he’s not bad at all, he just made a mistake.
Hamilton and Burr are similar in many ways, several of which the musical makes direct parallels to.
Anyways, that got me thinking on how important it is to love your villian. It’s crucial to learning how to write a good villain. An antagonist that is relatable to your protagonist is one of the marks of a good story.
Especially in genre stories, it can be very easy to make your villain larger than life.
A tragic back story is not enough to flesh out your bad guy’s motives.
In the timeless words of Jake Peralta: Cool motive. Still murder.
Your villain must have reasonable flaws and understandable motives. They must be similar to your main character in some aspect. Most importantly, they should want the same thing.
Ehh, Lily, you say, but a villain is always fighting for the opposite thing! But is he?
Let’s look at some notable villains:
Take Voldemort for example.
You can say he’s looking for the destruction of all muggleborns and the enslavement of both the Wizarding and muggle races, but what he’s really fighting for is the right to a world that fits his standards.
Those are very terrible ideals and he should seek therapy, but that is what he wants.
Harry is fighting for the same thing. They are similar in many other ways, too many to list, a couple being broken homes and lonely childhoods.
Think seriously about that do or die moment, when your main character has to make a touch choice. If I do this am I just like them?
The answer should be, yeah, a little bit.
Another great example is Nick and Amy from Gone Girl. Neither one of them is an A Plus person, but they sort of complement each other in a sick and twisted way.
You shouldn’t hate your villain. If you feel seething rage every time you write them, the reader likely will too, but will that rage push them through the story or tire them out?
A reader can escape whenever they want.
They can hate your villain, but they must also want your hero to win.
This is not just a technique to sympathize with your antagonist, but to make them believable.
If your villain is too cartoony, the suspense will bleed from your story. Likewise, if your protagonist is too perfect, nothing will ever truly be in their way.
Remember that a villain is a hero in their own story.
They believe what they are doing is the right thing. Why do they think that? How is your character the villain in their eyes?
Who is your favorite villain? Let me know below. Do you have some good examples you’d like to share? Go for it!
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