There Are No Villains

There Are No Villains (1921) 1

Amber smoothed her hand over his tie, flattening it against the line of buttons on his shirt, and looked up at him, her expression an odd mix of hesitant and hopeful.

I know this isn’t easy for you,” she muttered. “But, I really want us to try and have a pleasant evening. All right?”

Ross did his best to return her a smile, but it didn’t quite work. Because as much as he’d said (and wanted to believe) Sam was no threat to him, stepping onto her turf, into her sphere of influence, for the first time since that Christmas past – the night everything changed – was something entirely different.

Finally, he could only shrug, and say, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

The original title of this post was “Villains and Lovers,” but I thought the title for the 1921 film (which still is above) – “There are No Villains” – was more appropriate. Because one man’s villain is another man’s lover, just as one man’s insanity is another man’s genius, or one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

In the snippet above, the character of Sam stands as an antagonist for Ross. But, as the story is told only from Ross’s perspective, I want the reader to make his or her own judgments about Sam, apart from Ross’s prejudices. They need to do, if they’re to get a fuller picture of who she is and why she does what she does. Because, as I’ve said, one man’s villain is another man’s lover.

Villains in themselves can be a tricky lot. Some – a few – are absolute: devils incarnate who serve only to tempt, subvert, and destroy. More often, though (or, at least, more interesting), are the villains who exist as three-dimensional characters. In fact, your villain probably should have more than one dimension to them. If they just want to press that red button that blows up the world, there’s not much conflict that can’t be solved with a solid punch to the jaw (or a swift-talking mediator, if you prefer). But if your villain is a character in his or her own right – with feelings, motivations, and (dare I say it?) sympathies – that can and probably will create much more depth for all of your characters, not just that one.

What kind of villains are your favorites to read, or to write? Do you have suggestions of great villains to check out? (Of course, all of this applies only if your antagonist is sentient. You can’t exactly reason with a typhoon or a tumbling asteroid. Or, maybe you’ve figured out a way to do that, in which case, I really want to read your story!)

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10 thoughts on “There Are No Villains

  1. My villian would be Lisa and im going to try and get her to have more feeling but it also could be Nathan 😛 I like villians to come out good in the end 🙂 my fav would have to be Mr Darcy- at first you think he horrid but turns out he is lovely lol x

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    • Darcy’s a great example, Jenny!

      I like villains who have a change of heart, too, though some of them are, sadly, too far gone to repent. But even just the glimmer of repentance or remorse can make a villain more three-dimensional.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I find it hard to make my villains 3D. I think I have a tough time with it because I have never used POV for a villain, so to show his other side to the reader is difficult. It would mean that I’d have to show his sympathetic side through my hero’s POV, in which case my hero would then see the villain’s ‘softer’ side. However, I totally agree with you that the more interesting villains are the ones we can sympathize with. I think that makes the ending to stories less predictable, too.

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    • It’s definitely more difficult without the benefit of perspective, Kate. I’m trying to do so through the character’s dialogue and mannerisms, and how the characters around my protagonist feel, engage, and react. It’s not believable for every antagonist to be able to confront the protag face-to-face and make his case. 🙂

      Thanks for commenting!

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  3. Great post!

    My favourite villains are the “utilitarian” ones. Those who do horrible and despicable things in order to avert a disaster, or to improve the world. At least from their point of view. I feel it adds a whole new depth to their character, as well as attributes we can all at least relate to. However, it can become difficult to continue to describe their work as villainous, depending on circumstance 😛

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    • Thanks for stopping by, Oscar!
      I think I was influenced a lot by comic book villains like Doctor Doom, who sincerely thought what they were doing was right. (“What is good for Doom is good for the world.”) It can be difficult to portray a multifaceted villain, though, especially when dealing with just one perspective, as I tend to do. 🙂

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  4. I’ve always been a big fan of villains, from the sympathetic to the blusterous to the vicious. That’s one reason that “Starfighters of Adumar” is one of my favorite books of all literature. Not only does Wedge finally get his due, but the ‘villian’ in Rogriss is a man conflicted between his ideals and his duty to an Empire that needed a resource and was willing to take it, making him break his word.

    Looking back at my own works, I think I do well enough with the classic “world domination” villain, and have even done the ‘means to the end’ type as well. Still need to try my hand at a Starscream though.

    And as for Sam, I’d certainly say she’s an antagonist, but I’d personally but Susanna as more of a villain from Ross’ past. One would wonder just how many others fall to that temptress’ spell.

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    • Villains are complicated. They should go beyond being just an anti-hero, but sometimes I want someone who’s more than just a megalomaniac (the title of my blog notwithstanding). Ozymandias (from the Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons “Watchmen” comic) is a near-perfect example of this. Doctor Doom (done well) is a good one, too.

      What do you think sets a Starscream apart? That he’s a usurper? I’m jumping off-topic a bit, here, but I always liked the Starscream’s ghost episodes of the G1 cartoon from the 90s (or was it the 80s?). The conniving, troublemaker aspects to his personality were in full force…but he was also sort of a friend to Octane. Personally, I’d always liked Starscream. He was always bitchy, but it gave the Decepticons a separate dynamic as a fighting force; it made sense someone in the ranks would be disgruntled with Megatron’s leadership.

      Wow, I just totally relived a slice of my childhood there for a second…! 😀

      As far as the difference I see between Sam and Susanna, the one is in Ross’s face about Amber almost constantly (and they have a very specific issue between them), while the other represents a stray moment from his past. That moment shapes him, but he’s meant to move past it as he becomes closer with Amber.

      Not that I didn’t want to have Susanna be more a villain at the start. There’s actually a pretty serious confrontation scene between Susanna and Ross…but – as I mentioned in the Realism v. Drama post – Ross’s character had grown beyond her by that point. It just didn’t work any longer, based on what had come before, so I scrapped it.

      …Whoa, that was some rambling, there! 😀

      Thanks for the commentary.

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      • I usually set Starscream apart because yes, his is a usurper, a traitor and in some versions, too cowardly to fully realize his potential, but every version of him I have seen also has that silver tongue. He can certainly talk himself into a position of favor. He’s also intelligent, since in G1 he built his own army and in the newest incarnation, he was the Decipticon leader for some time before Megatron came back. And lastly, that treachery can sometimes run so deep, he’ll even betray himself to get into the best position. It’s like he just can’t help it.
        Have you seen any of the new series, Transformers: Prime? If not, I recommend you check it out. If nothing else, your nostalgia will thank you.

        Honestly, I would love to read the confrontation between Ross and Susanna sometime. It would make a great side-snippit, like your vignettes with Neville. Just a thought.

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