Some Thoughts on Villains

Estimated Reading Time: 4.97 minutes.

"Am I meant to become their queen? Or something else?" Alexis asked carefully, "If all the power in the world is mine..."

Dawn smiled coyly, "All the power means all the power. It means Dyeus at your feet. It means Artimus' heart in your hand. It means standing on Posedawone's back. It means taking Aides' right hand as your own. When I say all the power, I mean to make you my equal, Alexis. To take the distance between us and turn it away."

No wonder the gods were afraid.

Alexis sprang forward, taking the goddess' face in her hands and surprising her with a kiss.

In Dawn's Embrace, Chapter 5, Dyeus' Day

There are a lot of approaches when constructing a villain, and for some stories the 2-dimensional figure who just wants to wreck the world is more than enough. However, for most tales, you'll want something a little bit more subtle than that.

It's the subtlety I want to write about today.

One of the common patterns around villains that I've noticed, is that almost all stories follow a pattern:

This pattern, in my humble opinion, is absolute crap and an insult to your readers.

Humanising a villain only after making it clear that the reader should hate/dislike/distrust them is supposed to make you feel some kind of inner turmoil or conflict, and really depends on you as a writer being able to rewrite perspectives in retrospect. Unfortunately, there's little point to it. It doesn't matter if the reader now empathises with the villain - the villain is still a villain. They might be redeemable, they might be doing things for the right reason, but they are still firmly cemented as a villain.

I prefer a tougher road, one that is far less walked, and has a few famous examples to it.

In our introductory quote, we see Alexis getting her first taste of ascension. At first reading, it can sound like she's finally getting the strength she needs to overcome the people who have threatened her family, her friends. A war is looming, and she's being given the push she needs to stand up and fight, and the power to do it.

However, re-reading it with the knowledge that she is in fact the villain of the story, and not the heroine, that she is intent on taking over the entire world and owning it just because she wants to, you feel discomfort. You realise she's about to set out and destroy all the good in the world, kill off all the gods who were protecting humanity since its inception.

Dawn's listing of future dreams isn't a list that belongs with a heroine's goals, but it's easy to miss at first.

Alexis is a comical "destroy the world" villain, but she's also the character that the tale follows, so the reader makes the assumption that she is there to remake it better. She's not. She wants what she wants, and she'll take it. She doesn't need absolute power to corrupt her absolutely - she already was the worst sort of person.

Her excitement over Dawn handing her the power is the possibility of owning everything, and demonstrated by her manipulation of the goddess.

There's no turning point necessary for Alexis, she doesn't need to change to become the bad guy. Instead, it is the reader who needs to have their perspective challenged, and bit by bit, that is what the story presents to them.

Alexis heard victory cries exploding from all around her, and not just from the direction of the cult. She blinked in the rain, pushing aside her hair to see the gathered townspeople. She saw soldiers and peasants and fearful gazes turning to triumph as she hoisted her grisly trophy above her head.

She crossed slowly to the spear she had planted earlier, already beginning to feel her strength fade, and she spiked the head in place.

Riacles' jaw hung open slackly as his unseeing eyes gazed forward from the cult's temple, becoming a symbol of the war that they had now entered into.

In Dawn's Embrace, Chapter 5, Dyeus' Day

Even here, with Alexis killing off a famous hero, it isn't overly obvious that she's doing the wrong thing. Riacles isn't seen as a perfect hero, just someone famous that the reader isn't that familiar with. Alexis is still defending her family, her people. Yet, she is defending them from a fight that she picked.

She started the war.

To end the demonstration, these words that she shortly declares to a king, are not the words I would generally put into the mouth of a hero, but they can still fit if you're cheering her on:

"There was no us!" Alexis hissed, her eyes blazing, "I alone killed the demi-god. If you are so insulted by this attack, so incensed that I dared to defend myself, then step down from that horse and draw your sword!"

In Dawn's Embrace, Chapter 5, Dyeus' Day


Submit comment...

Subscribe to this comment thread.