Writing Wednesday: On Writing Interesting Villains

I have realized that I have not been writing, either on this blog or for my own purposes, as often as I have wished.  I would like to change that and write more consistently, and I think I want to revive my Writing Wednesday posts, where I write about writing ever Wednesday.


I read a quote the other day while browsing the internet that stuck with me as I have been considering topics to write about.   It was from an actress Maisie Williams who plays Arya Stark in the tv show Game of Thrones.   I will admit that I am not a fan of the show, I have not seen any of it, though I did read the first three books or so several years ago.   I found I did not really enjoy them, though I do understand why they are so popular, why so many people do enjoy them.   There are certainly a lot of well-developed characters, and the story is told compellingly from various characters’ points of view, giving us an insight into these different characters and their relationships.


The quote from Maisie Williams, about her character Arya, was “we only think Arya Stark is a good guy because it’s told from her point of view”  She went on to say, “and we think Polliver is a bad guy because he’s killed Lommy, but he could just be a guy doing his job with a wife and four kids to feed back at home. No one is good and no one is bad on Game of Thrones, it’s just how we’ve shown it. ”


I think that is one of the strong points of Game of Thrones, that we see a lot of different characters and very few of them are entirely good or entirely evil, they are just people who make decisions and do what they can.   I think we, as society, have moved beyond the days of enjoying a good guy going up against a bad guy, with good always winning.   Even most of the superhero movies that are being made recently do not necessarily have entirely good good guys or entirely bad bad guys.   I think of Christian Bale’s Batman who is not the fine, upstanding hero of previous Batman incarnations, but has a distinctly dark side.   We do not like our movies or our characters completely black or white anymore, which I think is a reflection of our understanding of the world around us — that we, as people, are not completely good or evil, but filled with layers of complexity.   What may be seen by one person as an ‘evil’ act, may be seen by another as a ‘heroic’ act.


I have long loved to think about complex villains. I enjoy a story with a bad guy who is not bad simply because he is bad or simply because the hero needs an adversary.   I have written before (here and here) about my thoughts on villainy, and how I enjoy a villain who is a villain for a reason.   But, what I have been thinking about lately is writing a story from a villain’s point of view such that the audience does not realize the character they have been following is actually the villain.

I do not want to write a story making the villain sympathetic in the style of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked, retelling The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s perspective, portraying her as a misunderstood villain.   I simply want to tell the story primarily from the villain’s point of view, but in such a way that it is not obvious that it is the villain until some major turning point.  The question I have been facing is how to tell a story from such a perspective without revealing that this character is the villain.   I will need to create such a villain that believes so much in their villainy that they do not believe they are not a villain.


But, honestly, any well written villain should believe they are not the villain.   Everyone in life believes they are the hero of their own story.  A good villain is not villainous simply because it is written that way.   A good villain should have motivation, should have some reason behind being a villain, some compelling characteristics to make them interesting and worth reading.


I am still working out the details — I don’t even have a plot yet, really.   But, I think this is definitely an idea worth pursuing and working on.   I think it could be a very interesting novel where the reader is not sure who the villains are and who the heroes are, but are drawn into compelling characters who have their own motivations and work toward their own goals.


What do you think?  How would you write such a story?



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