Friday, June 25, 2010

Writing Sympathetic Villains

In my current story I do have good guys versus bad guys, but it's not as clear as it should be. My main characters are twins and one becomes the hero and one becomes the villain, but that's no reason to totally hate him. I'm actually a fan of the sympathetic villain. You know, the one where you know you should hate but end up hoping that - somehow - he will succeed (even if you know that's never going to happen).

So, my dillema is that I've got to figure out how to make my villain sympathetic (especially since half the stories going to be told from his POV).

What makes a villain sympathetic?
It could be his backstory? The goal that he's aiming for is relatively good (in his own mind or morals) but the way he's going about achieving them is not the best?

I actually prefer sympathetic villains than 100% evil any day. I absolutely love japanese horror movies for this reason. Just look at any of those movies and by the end you'll end up pitying the ghosts that are doing all the killing.

What do you like in villains? Do you prefer 100% evil doers or ones you can feel sorry for? How do you tackle writing sympathetic villains?


Theresa Milstein said...

If they're 100% evil, they're probably one-dimensional. Think of Voldemort. As the series unfolds, we find out his upbringing isn't so different from Harry's. He was an orphan after all. And he's trying to prove he's the heir of Slytherin, and not his non-magical father who abandoned his mother. (And he seems to take after his mean grandfather, only worse.)

Almost rooting for a villain is trickier. There has to be less evil in him, and more of a choice that he's making the reader can identifying with making. Would we be strong enough not to make the easier, but wrong choice?

Your juxtaposed twins sound intriguing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree. A villain needs three dimensions.

Anonymous said...

It really depends on the book's focus, but I do agree that a sympathetic villain is much preferable, because there is a degree of fear from knowing that there is sympathy in his/her actions.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

I like a rounded villain, someone who has good parts of his/her personality, and good reasons for the things s/he does. I love it when I can't decide if a character is good or bad. Wondering brings more depth to the work.

Erica Mitchell said...

I like both, but both have to be relatable and multi-dimensional. I like the sympathetic villian, they are more agreeable and settle better because they have a motive that a reader, viewer can at least relate to. Just like Japanese horror, suddenly I think well...they had it coming after what happened to the ghost. But then I also like a villian who is straight evil but they have depth like the Joker who was brilliant. So I guess my best answer is, both with depth.

Aubrie said...

I prefer sympathetic villains! They are much more interesting. I love it when they turn good by the end: Darth Vader!

Hannah said...

I like my villains evil and truthful. But yes, three dimensional. I think a villain can be 100% evil and still be relateable. As writers, we have to be able to understand all sides, yeah? Otherwise, we'll never create a believeable villain.

Stephanie Lorée said...

Villains should only exist with proper motivation. They should not be evil for evil's sake.

Sympathetic, tragic, forced, whatever... so long as it's properly motivated.

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