Every story needs a good antagonist. Villains, like heroes, come in all shapes and sizes to fit the style of the story. I recently did a post about my love for secondary characters. Well, I also love a good villain. To me, the bad guy is usually more interesting than the good.
Perhaps this is because it speaks to the bad side of myself. That part of me that I can’t show to the world, that part of me that would cackle while swimming in a pool of my stolen money as my enemies lie in tatters.
Mostly, though, it is because the best villains have layers that many heroes cannot hope to achieve, which makes them endlessly fascinating.
The best antagonist doesn’t just do bad things because they are bad. They have a reason for everything they do and, usually, they are just as human as our hero. Everyone starts off the same, it is our experiences, environment and genetics that shape who we become. Even the most evil of characters start off as innocent children. Many of them grow into kind, thoughtful adults. Something must happen to make them the way they are, whether they are simply bitter or plotting to destroy the world. Their reasoning, as well as their characters and actions, are what help to make a villain work. The key to the best villains is often to find this piece of humanity and vulnerability, and show it or use this as part of the plot (for example, Megamind, where the villain becomes the hero and gets the girl, and Despicable Me). It is this which allows them to form into a complete, understandable character that the reader/viewer can enjoy and relate to. Not to mention that it makes them much more fun to write.
A villain is a specific kind of antagonist. An antagonist is simply someone or something that gets in the way of the main character. A villain is the embodiment of bad, or the opposite of our hero. Heroes and villains go hand in hand.
Some stories don’t seem to have clear cut antagonists. Game of Thrones and The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, for example, each have a huge cast of characters in which none are necessarily hero or villain. They are all just people. A much more realistic slant on life – everyone possesses the ability to do good and bad. Everyone can make a poor decision or save a life. Stories can be much more fun when the villain is bad and the hero good, but it is a very limited look at life in general.
So here’s a look at some of my favourite villains.
The ultimate villain in my opinion. He’s insane but brilliantly intelligent, evil and charming at the same time. Heath Ledger pushed the boundaries for this character in The Dark Knight and I doubt anyone will come close to the shivers he gave me.
I’m thinking of the latest Thor/Avengers Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Again, he’s intelligent but also a little naïve and young. He lacks the experience to help him make well rounded decisions and is spurred on by a desire to be noticed and a lack of identity. Yet he somehow manages to be charming and likeable despite this.
This blog post wouldn’t be complete without an Elysium reference! And you thought I was over it.
Kruger isn’t the obvious main antagonist in Elysium, that role belongs to Jodie Foster’s Delacourt. However, Kruger is the real threat to Max and Spider. The man is vile, a murderer and rapist, it is hard to find any redeemable features in him. But this is the point. Delacourt is an antagonist we can relate to, she is protecting her family and her home. But Kruger is only out to get what he can for himself, regardless of the people he hurts or kills, or the world he destroys in the process. He is selfish, charmless and strong but I think it is important to note that he is smart. Intelligence is a very important factor in a good villain. If the villain is stupid, he is not much of a threat.
What better reason to want to kill mankind than to have been ripped from your family and placed in a concentration camp? Magneto is a man who has given the world more than enough chances to prove that they are worth fighting for and watched them constantly fail. He only wants what is his by rights, he is superior to mere humans and yet the world will not recognise this. Magneto fights for a cause, the same cause that opposite protagonist Professor X fights for, it’s just that Magneto’s methods involve more death.
Well, you don’t get much more villianous do you? My first novel was about the Devil and I must admit that he was so much fun to write! I enjoy watching portrayals of him, but the best are those that have a tad of humanity. Charming, fiercely intelligent, funny and downright bad, but always remembering that Lucifer was once God’s brightest angel.
I have to include Crowley from Supernatural in this. Both Lucifer and Crowley are my favourite antagonists in Supernatural and both are the Kings of Hell, coincidence?
I’ve been wracking my brain for an amazing female villain. Someone intelligent, charming and ruthless. I can think of plenty of heroes and anti-heroes but no really good villains. What’s that about?
Speaking of the anti-hero, these characters fit comfortably between the villain and hero. Those good characters who do things just a little bit wrong. They’re not the antagonist but neither are they squeaky clean enough to take home to meet your mum. Perhaps a good topic for next week…
If you can think of a really good female villain, please let me know! Leave me a comment or a tweet.