Look guys! I have a lovely guest post from Gabby Pollack, one of Kingdom Pen’s very own writing team members. Check out her blog— she’s really cool.
Without further ado, here is her contribution to the vast and utterly fascinating study of writing villains.
Villains are ordinary people. Or at least, they used to be.
Normal people have soft consciences. They would never dream of murdering innocent citizens, obliterating races, or taking over the world. The guilt would crush them. Average people become villains because their moral compass twisted, letting their consciences ignore the conviction.
It may take a single traumatic event or a long chain of misfortune to skew a villain’s morals. No matter how it happened, a villain’s outer actions change only because his worldview has warped.
Tactic #1: Manipulating Value
Let’s pretend you have a favorite stuffed bear. You’ve cherished this guy since you were three and want to save him for your children to play with. You would likely put him in a safe box or on a shelf to keep him preserved. You’d never drag teddy through the mud or let your dog chew on him.
What happens to the rest of your teddy bears that you don’t worry so much about? What about the cheap ones from the dollar store or the faded hand-me-downs?
They’re all yours, doggie.
It comes down to value. If you assign value to something, you’ll take care of it. If not, that thing doesn’t matter. You can ignore and mistreat it.
Or, if you’re a villain, you can murder it.
Villians often justify wreaking havoc on people because they don’t recognize their worth. They aren’t valuable. Therefore, they can be treated with contempt.
There are a few variations of this root belief.
Villains may allow themselves to destroy humanity because they think life, in general, is worthless. They may think humanity is good for nothing, tainted by evil, created by evil, or random and purposeless. Loki in Marvel’s Avengers is a good example of a villain with this worldview.
Bad guys may also destroy a people group because they believe another race is superior. Because these superior beings (like that valued teddy) are all that matters, who cares about everyone else? An interesting example of this is found in the interactions between the nobility and the Skaa in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn.
Another way villains destroy the value of their enemy is by demonizing them. This happens in the political realm quite often. One side takes the other side’s candidate and concentrations on their faults. The opposing candidate becomes the sum of his errors, and no more room remains for goodness. In the eyes of his accusers, he ceases to be human.
This creates a lack of understanding and information. The less villains know about their enemy’s humanity, the easier that enemy is to hate and destroy.
There are realms you can do with this stuff. Perhaps your villain avoids all contact with his victims because he doesn’t want to be reminded of their humanity. However, one day a sufferer steps into his throne room and rocks his world. Maybe your villain constantly preaches against the horrors of his enemy to his people but makes sure his citizens never come into contact with the so-called “evil” opposition.
Almost all villains devalue their enemies in some way. However, there are a few other tactics that can be incorporated into a villain’s beliefs.
Tactic #2: Creating a New Moral Code
If a character is stuck fighting for survival, there is a good chance he’s going to justify his actions, even wrong ones, to stay alive. If his old moral code isn’t letting him save his family, his country, or even the human race, he might end up making a new one.
This is another way villains can justify their deeds. They create a new creed so their actions, at least in their eyes, aren’t wrong at all. The pain they inflict on the world is simply a way to survive, a way of saving those who need to be saved and sacrificing those who get in the way.
Tactic #3: Ends Justify Means
This mentality is similar to the one above and emphasizes the final result of a current course of action. If your villain believes what they do is for a good cause, any action can be justified. Their evil is redeemed by its end result.
This can be a vulnerable path for a villain to tread. If a hero managed to show the villain that their future ideal is not worth the blood they spill to attain it, it could lead to a complete reversal. It could also be the exact opposite. Your villain could hold to his ideal so strongly that he’d rather die than part with it.
In the end, it’s all about what a villain believes. If their foundation is warped, who knows what they’re capable of. Don’t be afraid to expand these ideas to twist your villains’ worldview. In this way, you can create a realism that touches every part of his life and influences each of his actions.