I was wandering through our Forum the other day, and I came across this very interesting thread posted by A.R.Gallo. It is a unique viewpoint on Villains and how they are viewed by readers. Just thought I would share.
Anyone who knows me is probably aware that my favorite character archetype is often the antagonist of just about any story. Antagonists are great because they bring conflict to a story. Without conflict there is nothing that the protagonist has to overcome, and without a challenge to overcome, the plot remains stagnant, as does the main character.
I love villains. The more evil the better. Of course, it can be argued that everyone is the hero in their own story. Sleeping Beauty as told from the perspective of Maleficent may have an entirely different tone once we’re introduced to Maleficents own justifications of her actions. Oftentimes I find that most hero archetypes are self-sacrificing martyrs that are so blinded by their beliefs that they cannot see the harm they are doing to others with their good intentions. It often takes an antagonist or villain to try to drive this point home. Most of the time this is unsuccessful, because the good guy always has to win in the end.
What I can’t seem to understand though from all of this is why some readers/writers/artists feel the inherent need to “fix” a villain. I’ve been seeing it everywhere lately. Comics, movies, fan-fiction (especially), you name it. A story progresses and there is conflict between a protagonist and antagonist, and at the end of the day the conflict is resolved with the protagonist as the victor. Season 2/Book 2/Part 2 comes around and suddenly the antagonist in his faded glory is “fixed” by some other character who has faith in him to be good, or some other such nonsense.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I say. What makes a story compelling is the conflict a character can bring, and by “fixing” him or her you’re eliminating any potential conflict in a story, conflict that can move a plot forward, that can change a character and make them grow and develop into someone more multidimensional.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint where this obsession with fixing a bad guy comes from. Lately I’ve managed to pinpoint that this theme with villains appears in romances. Not exactly my cup o’ tea, but if you’re going to start a romance with a villain, why not challenge yourself as a writer to give them a love interest that accepts them for who they are, or maybe be as bad as the villain is? Where does this preconception of having a relationship with a villain come from that they need to be a good person first in order for it to even function? I can think of one example pairing that functions perfectly well as a dysfunctional lunatic couple: The Joker and Harley Quinn.
Harley has no intention of “fixing” the Joker! If she had he would have killed her years ago! She’s madly in love with his lunacy and with his flaws, and to date, the Joker has had the longest stable relationship in comics history next to Clark Kent and Lois Lane, which is more than can be said for his “sane” arch-nemesis the Batman, who can’t seem to hold on to a solid relationship for more than a week without self-sabotaging it.
All I’m saying is, writers need to step up to the challenge of getting into the mind of an antagonist, and accept them for the conflict-creators that they are. I’m of the current theory that some writers themselves are afraid of facing conflict, and don’t want their characters to face it either, but without it a story cannot and will not move forward. Be proud of your villain’s ill deeds. Sure, you can sympathize with their crappy abusive upbringing, but thinking that “all they need is a hug” in order for them to be relatable is doing them a disservice, and often times it serves as an insult to their overly egotistical and maniacal self-concepts.
When it comes right down to it, I think some writers just want a villain to become a different person entirely, and they do this by supposedly redeeming him or her. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with redeeming a person, but when they’ve already come to terms with who they are and are proud of the horrible things they do, then redeeming them isn’t doing them any favors.