Sympathetic Villains in Your Novel

Whatever book you’ve decided to write, you probably have an antagonist in mind.  It’s important to drive the story and give your protagonist someone to fight against.  In a lot of cases, it’s black and white on who’s good and who’s the bad guy.  What happens when you want to make your story a little grayer, though? That’s where sympathetic villains comes in.  In this article, I’ll discuss ways to make your bad guy seem like someone you might not necessarily hate.

Sympathetic Villains in Novel Creation

Consider What Your Villain Wants

If you’re creating a story that’s not supposed to be completely black and white, then you need to spend as much time fleshing out your antagonist as you do your protagonist. In a lot of cases, a bad guy thinks he’s doing something good, or he believes his cause is just.  This can make for a compelling character that has a lot more depth and complexity.

Think about it for a moment. Imagine you’re creating a fantasy world where your villain wants to take over all the different kingdoms. Why does he want to do it? In a pure story about good versus evil, he may just want power.  In a story where you want to create a sympathetic villain, however, you might consider why he wants that power.  Does he want to unite the world to end suffering? Does he believe that he can provide the empire that the world may need?


Give Him or Her Good Qualities Too

If you want to create a character that’s sympathetic, they need to have some good qualities. They need something that redeems them in the eyes of the reader.  Readers should be torn on whether or not they’re purely bad or if they’re just misguided in whatever their agenda is.

Some examples would be if your villain is nice to children.  If he truly cares about them, perhaps he builds orphanages for the homeless. Perhaps he provides money to poor families. Perhaps he provides education to the illiterate. There are hundreds of ways you can make your villain seem more sympathetic while still making sure the readers know he is the antagonist of the story and that while he might have some good qualities, he’s still making the wrong decisions.


Look at Sympathetic Villains in Modern Media

There are hundreds of shows out there that portray sympathetic villains.  Take Game of Thrones for example. While Cersei is clearly an antagonist of the story, there are moments when you find yourself actually caring about her character.   She loves her children and always puts them first and foremost. That’s a redeemable quality right there, even if she makes horrible decisions that eventually lead to their deaths.

Another good example is a Handmaid’s Tale. This story is riddled with antagonists who truly believe they’re doing the right thing. Aunt Lydia tortures and abuses women while condoning rape but you know that she does it because she truly wants to save the human race from extinction and that she cares about the children that are sired.  Serana Joy helped create the dystopian world the story takes place in, and yet you find yourself caring about what happens to her while still rooting for Offred/June.

Whether you decide to make your villain sympathetic or purely evil, it’s important to make sure that you still take the time to make sure the character is fully rounded out and well developed. Nobody wants to read a story about a one-dimensional bad guy after all.  Take your time to find out his or her personality, their driving motives, and the things that make them tick.  Bad guys were once just normal people after all.  Happy writing!

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Posted August 9, 2018 by Spencer McCoy in category "Uncategorized

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