“But these words people threw around – humans, monsters, heroes, villains – to Victor it was all just a matter of semantics. Someone could call themselves a hero and still walk around killing dozens. Someone else could be labeled a villain for trying to stop them. Plenty of humans were monstrous, and plenty of monsters knew how to play at being human.”
― V.E. Schwab, Vicious
Let’s start by throwing out the word perfect. Nothing is perfect, nothing will be perfect. There is no perfect time, perfect place, or perfect villain. Well unless you are Scar from The Lion King. Then you are perfect. That character was such mix of poise, deviousness, and charm I loved him from sentence one. And many of my villains when they monologue suddenly turn into Scar with the accent and slow pattern of speech.
Well once we throw out the word perfect. We are left with the word villain. Are they villains? Well in some of my stories, yes. Some plot for years and become intelligent at making life hell on the main character. Other times it is simply a character that is misguided in opinion. Some men see women as possessions to belittle, making them a villain in the eyes of the character. And some characters are just egocentric. Yep. They care for themselves so much that nothing around them matters. The loss of respect my main character goes through creates a villain aura around that poor egocentric soul lost to his or her own worship.
Now I admit, my villains are more like Scar than like normal everyday humans. And many of them male. I am reconsidering the idea that villains are male in my books. Why not give the gender a rest in a world where men are villainous for being men? I am not forgiving their actions, but I am forgiving their gender. Men are not silly and they are not clueless as the sitcoms and media make them out today. They also are not as lecherous as the media frenzy would wish us to think. Men are human. Yes HUMAN! So with that in mind, what else can be a villain?
“There weren’t any villains though. The world was just complicated in various ways, and there weren’t any obvious villains to be found. It was excruciating.”
― Tatsuhiko Takimoto
Oh the trudge! Who is Batman without the Joker? Who is Superman without Lex Luthor? And who was Nemo without humans? Wait. What? That last one can’t be true. Oh but it is. We humans were the villains in the Finding Nemo series. The reality is that most villains are unclear in our lives. My villain might be my alarm clock I’m not going to lie. In fact I set it to a more relaxing sound because if I hear that shrill tone one more time ripping me from my newest dreams about men, I will kill someone. And I doubt my husband would approve of being the first fresh meat I see.
But perhaps reader, you can think of a villain in your life. It is those republicans, or those democrats. It’s the socialists, the communists, the Russians, the North Koreans. Or is the villain closer to home and not pointed out by media? Is there a co-worker that kills your spirit every time you go in to work? I know I had a couple and I would literally break into a sweat if they were the one I had to give report to at the end of the busiest shift of my life. Perhaps your spouse is belittling you before sunrise because she wants you to make more money than the job you love? Is she a villain? Quite possibly. All these villains can be used then to write a different sort of villain for your characters.
In some of my plots, it is not the typical villain my character must fight against. It is themselves. In fact in my recent stories there might be an external struggle of bad luck or circumstances, but the characters must overcome their own fears to survive. They have to push through the insecurities and doubt in their minds to gain understanding and peace enough to face that external villain. In this case it is excruciating like the quote above from Takimoto. If we have nothing to fight against, then we must face ourselves. And just like in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, or in The Never Ending Story the worst challenge for our heroes was facing themselves.
“Villains who twirl their mustaches & spreading fear are easy to spot. Those who cloak themselves in beauty & good deeds are hard to find.”
― Marlan Rico Lee
Which brings me to my third kind of villain I like to use. My second novel I wrote, the good guy was actually the bad guy. He seemed docile, kind, charming and all other things women loved about a decent man. And he was. But he had a nasty problem with being part of a drug cartel and the main character was on the hit list. Meanwhile our hero was exactly as our hero could be in that moment. He as before I rewrote my expectations of my men in my novels. So naturally he stomped around with fiery temper and dark expressions. I imagine he was a little like Snape from Harry Potter. Only too handsome to be allowed and in fact desperate to protect our heroine. Add in a little crush and sexual frustration made him a monster. So why then would my main character not go for the nicer of the two? It might puzzle the hero, but it made for a good story. No one spotted the nicest man around as the one behind the trouble. Not until it was way too late.
So which of these villains is perfect? Which of them work best for today’s world? And which ones are best for our books and short stories? I think the perfect villain is all three. What?! Didn’t we just throw that perfect word out the window? Well yes, yes we did. But this is how I imagine my stories these days. There is the mustache twirling villain behind the nice guy that ruins the life of my main character. There are real life struggles all around her. And now she has these two to deal with? It seems like the villains will win just by wearing her out. And maybe they do. That is up to the reader. I’m a sucker for happy endings so we all know it will work out in the end when you read one of mine. But I love my villains. All of them. Every last kind.