Flipping the coin

Last time, I talked about writing villains. Everybody had great comments, but Vanessa’s sparked a new idea in me. In my head (sometimes on paper), I have backstories for every character who walks onto my pages for any more than a sentence or two. Most of these backstories are rather simple, because I don’t see the point in spending too much time on a character who is basically just a spaceholder. But for anyone with any significance to the story, they have their own story. But Vanessa’s insight offered me a different perspective: basically, that we storytellers should remember that every good villain is the hero of his or her own story.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that your villain needs to have heroic traits. But, their motivations and characterization should come from a place of realism. The best villains are often ones with whom a reader can personally identify. I don’t know if I managed that with the villains illustrated in last week’s post (actually, I doubt it), but it’s a good characterization technique to remember. So, this morning, I drafted up a couple of would-be storylines for each of those principal antagonists, posted below. If nothing else, it was fun to look at them from a new angle. I’d recommend doing something similar for your own antagonists – you never know when you might be struck with new inspiration.

The Red Widow

It’s a man’s galaxy. That’s what they say. Certainly, it seems that way to a girl sold into slavery for men’s pleasure. But this is no ordinary slave girl. This is one who learns from her so-called “masters”: how greedy, vain, and susceptible men are. Especially to a woman’s charms. Justiciar, pirate, or politician: no matter the insignia on their collar or the banner on their ship, men have their weaknesses, and she knows them all. Her marks have called her many names: Anya, Elsbeth, Illia, Una. But the galaxy knows her better as a woman as smart as any justiciar, as savvy as any pirate, as sly as any politician. It knows her as Red Widow. And she’s going to turn this man’s galaxy upside-down.

Into the Light (Lohengrin, the Swan Knight)

Abram had a son, once. A bright, beautiful boy full of possibilities. A gentle boy cherished for his kindness and skill with a tanner’s knife. The air would sing with the strokes of that knife, and wealthy women and men would come from across all districts to watch and buy his work. Abram loved his boy. But the Darkness loved him, too.

One day, that Darkness came for him, in the form of another smooth-faced boy, and lured Abram’s son away. Away, into the Darkness. What choice for a father but to save his only son? And the only way to save him from the dark was to lead him back into the light. With fire.

The Darkness has taken other boys. The Lost Boys, they are. But he will save them. He will take up arms and become their knight, to set them free, body and soul. He will be Lohengrin, the Swan Knight, their savior.

The Body Electric (Reilly)

The Dahl Army gave Reilly everything: a job, a purpose, even something like a family. For twelve fine years, he fought, laughed, caroused, and conquered by the sides of his fellow commandoes and their skilful sergeant. But on what is supposed to be a routine grab-and-go mission on Artemisia, the unthinkable happens: the op goes sour. An explosion and fire burns away half his soldierly body. And what does Dahl do? They dump him like scrap.

When the Hyperion salvage team finds him rotting in an Artemisian infirmary, they see his potential, and make him an offer: Become part of the Body Electric, a soldier enhanced for the technological wars. Of course, a soldier with potential needs a purpose, but Reilly has a purpose: hunt down his old teammates who left him to die, starting with his glory-hungry sergeant, the man responsible for it all.

Every Shot a Kill (Strenk)

Walking around the galaxy with the S&S munitions manufacturer family name stenciled on his uniform has never meant much to Lukas Strenk. Guns are just tools, only as good as the man who holds ‘em. And he is a great man, the best in the Inner Ring. Every shot from Strenk’s Orion rifle is a kill. But even the simplest kills can go wrong. When Galactic Defense redacts his latest target assignment after knowing the job’s already been done, they blame Strenk, of course, never mind his 100% success rate and the value of his name. “Get yourself gone or get yourself dead,” the GD Justiciar tells him. Strenk’s only answer is a bullet.

To hell with the shifting, shifty so-called rules of the Inner Ring. When the galaxy gives you lemons, you shove ‘em straight up its gaping *** and lick the residue from your fingers.


Once again, I think Strenk came out on top as my favorite of these, though I enjoyed the exercise for all. Have you ever flipped the coin on your antagonists? Have you ever found you identify more with a villain than a hero in a story? Let me know!

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13 thoughts on “Flipping the coin

  1. The Joker just wants to bring a smile to Gotham
    Megatron was a champion for the equality of all Cybertronians
    And Izanami wanted to grant the desires of all mankind.
    I rather enjoy looking at villains from their own eyes, as it can be an interesting window into the world, and can bring a kind of truth to the world. Some fall in the shades of grey, others are the black to make the white knights stand out.

    Honestly, the deepest I have dove into a villain is with Celerian, and that was a while ago. Though, that last pirate piece was fun, so there could be something in that 🙂

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    • Yeah, pirates are a neat lot just full of grays. Even the generally good guys like Han Solo and Lando Calrissian had their scoundrel streaks. But, weren’t they so much more interesting for that? It gets a bit dangerous for me to venture too far into a villain’s head, though. Sometimes, I find a greater story worth telling there! 🙂

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  2. The way you wrote your villains makes me sympathize with them. They don’t seem to be the villains that we expect them to be, but people trying to right a wrong, even if their methods are a little more extreme than some of us might consider. I felt a Kill Bill vibe from the Red Widow, by the way. 🙂

    Because your four villains have such different backstories, I would love to read more about each of them. Have you considered writing a story in the perspective of the villain?

    I think I’ve struggled most with trying to figure out why my villains came out the way they are. I hate the idea of just leaving them as “We’re bad because we can be” since they lack dimension, but creating the “why” is pretty fun. I can’t think of any villains that I can identify with, at least not at the moment, and that’s probably because I don’t know a lot of villain backstories to connect to.

    Fantastic post! Thank you for pointing out that villains are people, too, and why they don’t always see themselves as the villains in their own perspectives.

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    • Thanks for reading, and for taking the time to comment. 🙂

      It’s probably rather a good thing that you don’t connect too easily to villains’ stories, as it can be scary to realize we identify with the antagonist more than the protagonist.

      I don’t think I’ve ever done a story from the villain’s perspective, though I have had heroes with less-than-heroic tendencies. My current hero is actually quite gray; he does some pretty mean stuff. But, who the “hero” is and who the “villain” is in a story all depends on the point of view.

      Thanks for the nice words about these little write-ups. I hadn’t considered The Bride for Red Widow, but, now that you mention it, I can see some similarities. 🙂

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  3. Someday, when I have some time(!), I will have to try this. You really make your baddies’ justifications and “inspiration” understandable to the reader. We can see how they got to where they are, and —gasp— wonder if we might react similarly in that situation!

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    • Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, JM. I know your schedule is packed. (Honestly, I wasn’t expecting anybody to have the time to read/comment on this one. I posted mainly for my own purposes.)

      It does get a little scary to see a story from the antagonist’s POV, especially when we start to sympathize a little…! I had a hard time pulling myself out of the heads of a few of them! But, it was a fun exercise I recommend. When you’ve got some elusive “free” time, of course. 😉

      Hope all’s well!

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  4. I love all my characters. Even with the villains, I make sure to see their side before I write them. Even the biggest villain has a motivation and something at stake. Sometimes they are even more fun to write than the hero. 🙂

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  5. I never thought of trying to do this until recently. I paid for a full editorial report on my novel and the feedback came back that she felt a little sorry for the villain in my piece. Then I read again and so did I. I wasn’t thinking of him, I was focussing more on the heroine (the woman in the story not the drug)! 😉 I’m definitely going to do this more in future because when I looked at him again, I was able to give him more depth.

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    • Thanks for stopping in, hell4heather!

      I do appreciate a villain/antagonist who can elicit empathy. Though, there must be some danger in making them too sympathetic to the reader. Aren’t we supposed to root for the hero/ine, after all? Those stories in which I have identified more with the antagonist than the protag, I’ve found I don’t like as much. Because who likes to see their favorite character get shot down before the denouement?

      Thanks again for taking the time to offer your thoughts. 🙂

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