Love Your Villains
Years ago I was in a seminar with Steve Almond when he said something that changed the way I look at villains forever.
You've got to love your villains, he told us. You've got to love them just as much, if not more than you love your heroes.
You might be thinking: Come again? Aren't villains the baddies that we're supposed to hate? Aren't they supposed to be unequivocally terrifying?
Well, maybe. The definition of the villain (or if we're dusting off our literary terminology, the antagonist) is as varied and numerous as the tales in which they appear. And while the villain's job is to get in the way of the hero, to thwart and needle, to shock and even corrupt, that doesn't mean that they aren't capable of love or being loved. It certainly doesn't mean that they can't be nuanced characters with complex motivations and origins. And it doesn't mean that we have to hate them. On the contrary, as Almond says, we must love them.
The more we feel for our villains, the more we will see them as people just like us who have made choices and taken paths out of fear, lust, or self-dillusion. For it's in our characters' flaws, in their darkness, that we can truly explore what they are capable of doing and withstanding. We can see the geneaology of their experiences and how they result in something that is broken yet simply and always irrevocably human.
Editor's note: Explore more of the nuances of villains in KL's upcoming class, Genre Essentials: Creating Characters!
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira