Last time we spoke at great length, I was ranting and raving about anti-heroes and what it takes to write one. I thought it was time we take on the opposite of the anti-hero: the anti-villain.
There’s a big difference between these two archetypes. The anti-hero is the character who is striving for goodness but does a few bad things along the way. No matter what, the reader is still rooting for this person to get their life together and get to their goal! However, the anti-villain is the character who has a goal in mind, favorable characteristics, or has a sappy backstory that makes you feel sorry for them…but they still are not-so-good and we kind of don’t want them to get in the way of our hero getting what they want/deserve. They aren’t entirely evil as some would think villains are or can be.
What does it take to craft the ideal anti-villain? Let’s chat about it!
- CONNECT THEM TO YOUR HERO
Voldemort killed Harry’s parents and left him with a scar; boom – connection. Black Jack Randall is Claire’s husband’s ancestor and has a fascination for Jamie; boom – connection. Scar is a part of the family (although, outcast) on Pride Rock; boom – connection.
Having a connection to the hero assists in the hero’s character development. Whether that ends up being a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. Plus, backstory is imperative to any character’s existence. We must know where they came from in order to understand who they are today.
- NARROW DOWN WHICH ONE THEY ARE
There is a list of types of bad guys all over; but what makes this particular not-so-bad guy bad?
First, we have the well-intentioned extremist. This is the one who has a goal in mind, it’s a good one, but they can’t seem to get to that goal without going to the extreme. And we mean in a bad, bad way. The most common thought in the AV’s head is: “this is for the greater good.” Which, I guess it could be, but did they really have to go ahead and try to kill a crazy amount of people to get there? No. A great example of this (that isn’t Thanos) in literature is Melisandre in A Song of Ice and Fire. She firmly believes that Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai reborn, and would kill as many needed to get him the throne. Even Stannis can be considered an extremist of sorts.
Then there’s the noble baddie. This one sounds like it’s not going to be as terrible,right? Well, lo and behold, this one is. There’s a reason behind their attempt at evilness and a particular code they would rather not break. What usually happens is – this individual is trying to be the bad guy; says they are going to do these terrible things…but when it comes down to actually doing anything, they have a harder time following through. An example of this one is Crowley from Good Omens. What do you get when a demon is on a mission to spread sin for a very long time? Well, he ends up being fond of his target and doesn’t want them to die by Apocalypse.
My personal favorite is the villain in name only. This one is exactly what it sounds like: a person who is simply opposing the hero. They aren’t evil, they simply challenge the hero and are their opposite. If the tables were turned, we would probably view that character as the hero and vice versa on their counterpart. A classic example of this would be in the original stories of Sherlock Holmes. Anytime Sherlock discovers the perpetrator is simply a victim of circumstance, and explain themselves to Mr. Holmes…they usually are let go without consequence. It was simply a story to tell about a bad guy who wasn’t all that bad.
Last but not least, we have the woobie villain. I didn’t know where the name came from, so I had to look into it a bit. First, a “woobie” is a name for the type of character who make you feel extremely sorry for them. I know exactly who you’re thinking of when it comes to an example of this, and no, I will not say her name. (Carrie.) But what do you do when you have a character who is terribly torn down and can’t take it anymore? They become the antagonist. While the name I will not mention (Carrie) is an example of this, I want to highlight another classic “I feel terribly sorry for her” villainess…Elphaba. If you don’t know her story, then you don’t have a heart. But seriously, go read the book or watch the play. It’ll make you mad to watch the 1939 Wizard of Oz.
If I had to pick my ideal anti-villain archetype, it would have to be the woobie. Backstory is vital to this villain, granted it is for all characters, but something about building a really strong connection with the villain and understanding where they are coming from when they turn evil…that’s the good stuff. Like the monster from Frankenstein or…Carrie, I guess.
Do you have any well-crafted anti-villains? Or do you have a favorite in mind? We would love to hear about it!