Reflection: Sympathetic Anti-Villains

One of my favorite types of characters to write for always has been the villains.  Though not every story needs a villain, of the ones that do, it’s a good villain that can really make the story.  For one thing, a good villain has to be capable of defeating the hero, possibly even having an overwhelming advantage at the beginning of the story.  But what I really like about villains is how they can be made sympathetic and likable despite being evil.

My favorite type of villain is the anti-villain.  Many people may not be familiar with this term; to somebody unfamiliar with the term, an anti-villain may simply be a character who is not a villain at all, but this is not true.  The anti-villain is indeed a villain, but they have a good side to them too.  They may have some line that they will not cross.  They may have been driven to villainy by a tragic past.  They may have some kind of a goal that the reader can sympathize with, at least up to a certain point.  Their motives can be benevolent, but they go to extreme means to attain their goals; they basically feel that the ends justify the means.

You can learn more about anti-villains, and see lists of examples, at the TV Tropes page on the subject (here), or their “sliding scale” page that lists the different types of anti-villains, from the most to the least villainous (here).

I’ve always liked this kind of villain because they seem more human.  When writing a villain, the first thing I have to think of is why they’re doing what they’re doing.  Though the villain’s actions are wrong, most of the time, they believe their actions are right.  There may be times when they do think their actions are wrong, but in these cases, they either believe their actions to be necessary, or the lesser of two evils.  Ultimately, most serious villains do not believe that they are villains.

Complex villains like this I’ve always been found to be the most interesting characters, and the most fun to write.  With a good anti-villain, you can blur the line between good and evil, make it clear that morality isn’t so black and white, like it often is in the real world.  There have been many stories where at least some of the fans sympathize more with the villain than the hero, and I’ve seen some fans write posts arguing in support of the villains’ actions on online forums – and these fans aren’t just crazies (well, not all of them at least).

However, this is not always a good thing.  If the readers support the villain, it could also mean that the hero isn’t sympathetic enough, though that’s a topic for another day.

I’ve nothing against the type of villains who are unquestionably unsympathetic and evil.  I’ve written my share of this kind too, and in some cases, they can actually work better.  But even for this type of villain, they need motivation for their actions.  Even if they’re evil, they also believe their actions to be right or necessary by their horribly twisted moral compass.  Even if the reader will probably not agree with them, they may at least see where they’re coming from.  If the villain is simply insane, something probably drove them to insanity.  If this catalyst is tragic enough, it could make even a truly menacing and evil character into a somewhat sympathetic anti-villain.

It’s issues like this that make villains some of the most interesting and fun characters for me to write.  I really did have a lot of fun with the scenes containing the anti-villains in The Cromm Conspiracy, especially in the later chapters.  I can’t say too much, though, I have to avoid giving away spoilers and all.

I just like how a villain can be made sympathetic, even to the point where a reader can agree with and support them, when they are doing things that are actually truly horrible.  Of course, writing a villain like this is tough, but it can be rewarding.  Anyway, I have to go…until Friday, adieu.


2 thoughts on “Reflection: Sympathetic Anti-Villains

  1. Pingback: Reflection: The Protagonist’s Motivation | White Rakogis's Lair

  2. Pingback: Reflection: Not-So-Sympathetic Villains | White Rakogis's Lair

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