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The Devil’s Advocate: A Response to S.C. Green’s “For The Sake of Being Evil”

Today S.C. Green wrote a post on PLC about humanizing one’s villains. Now, I am in complete agreement with some of the things he says- you should always know why your bad guy is doing what he’s doing. What’s his motivation? Side note- You should know the motivations of ALL your characters, major or minor, POV character or no. This is one of the things that separates the roundies from the flats. Whether that motivation gets onto the page depends on whose story you are telling.

As an example of how to humanize your villians, S.C. suggests, “There might be a tender moment in their past, something that your reader can relate to, something real that goes wrong or maybe they made a poor choice that’s forever changing their future.”

And to that I say, tread lightly. Because the “I had a sad childhood and now I is twisted and bad” thing? Totally. Played. Out.

Sometimes people don’t need a triggering event to be horrible, or to begin to suffer from a range of psychoses. (extra deep dish side note- iTunes shuffled Poe’s Trigger Happy Jack on as I started to write this post and now it’s gone on to NIN’s Closer. The machines and I are ONE! And yes I still live in the 90′s shuddup.) Sociopaths are usually born that way, there’s certain childhood “tells” like torturing animals, disregarding safety of self, and compulsive lying.

I agree with S.C.’s point that villains need a thread of humanity. But I think motivation alone can provide most of that thread. I think the danger of having a cartoon villain arises when he *only* does bad things. If your bad guy kicks a puppy every time he gets on the page, you’re in Saturday morning cartoon town. Now to be fair, S.C. isn’t advising that either, he says “The reader has to believe that these bad things are happening for a (not-so) good reason.” I agree. But I say, easy on the backstory, Jack, and just give me some Motivation.

I mean, who do we love, this guy?

Anakin Wusswalker

Or this guy?


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  1. Mart wrote:

    Agreed. I think there’s also something to be said about the fact that everybody’s the hero in their own story. I would rather read a villian that knows he’s in the right, and doesn’t spend a lot of time justifing his bad-ness. Like Dr Lizardo in Buckaroo Bonzi. Because I come from the 80′s….

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 9:57 pm | Permalink
  2. Amy McLane wrote:

    You will be happy to hear I have Buckaroo Bonzai in my Netflix instant queue right now.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

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