Villainy, the root of all heroism

Hur! Hur! Hur! (grunt, grunt ugh!)
Pillage, rape and then ahr…son,
Yer gotta do ‘em right, son!
Hur! Hur! Hur! (grunt, grunt ugh!)
Afore yer do yer worst,
Always remember which comes first.
Hur! Hur! Hur! (grunt, grunt ugh!)

Marching song from Fort Pha-harrish, Fighting Orc boot-camp.

I believe it’s a pretty soft boot camp these days. Luxury. I mean they get boots to eat. In my day we had demon toenail-clippings if we was lucky, and had to polish Mount Doom with our tongues…
Ah good ole days! But you tells the young orc o’ today…

Heroes. We all talk about heroes.

But a hero, it seems, is a plant that can only grow in a bed of villainy. To craft a great story takes more than just building a hero. It takes building that environment in which that heroism becomes visible, becomes a story.

It’s a structural issue from the writing craftsman’s point of view. It’s far more difficult than the character we identify with and hope our reader identify with. It’s something that requires getting into the head of a character/s the writer hopes will be disliked, or hated and feared. And doing that well means stepping a long way past stereotype villains, understanding what makes them tick, understanding how they would terrify people, and understanding the position they need to be in to make most stories work.

It’s a lot harder than the current standard trope which is a cross between dogwhistles and PC designated villains.

The first and most important thing to remember is very few readers have any real interest in your tale of how the hero shot fish in a barrel. The villain must, seemingly, have the upper hand –right until the last. The structural task the writer faces is to subtly prepare the ground for their defeat to seem plausible. That defeat will rarely if ever seem plausible to the villain or their henchmen or camp-followers. If it does – well the author has to use what is sure under these circumstances – the increase viciousness and brutality of those who fear losing their grip (we can see examples right through history both at a nation and proximal level. You’ve got everything from the accelerated murders in Nazi death camps to lawfare on so-called ‘hatespeech’ on facebook and twitter.) At which point the author is racing not against the odds – but against time.

The second key to structuring great villains is to remember that the villain rarely, if ever, considers themselves a villain. A dispassionate view may conclude: yes so-and-so is a villain. But the villain remains deeply rooted in the belief (or delusion) that they are right (and probably good), and despite the evidence, the other side are wrong. This need have nothing to do facts and this is a tool the writer uses to clarify in the reader’s mind, while maintaining the illusion of invincibility of the foe. To take a practical real-life case – We had Irene Gallo of Tor Books informing the world that the Sad Puppies were Far Right Wing Neo-Nazi, bad writers, homophobes, etc. etc. – the usual grab-bag of buzzwords for demonizing anyone not of her narrow little clique. (and this is merely one of a sequence of these libels from the Puppy-kickers. We’ve all been male, homophobes, misogynists etc. etc. so often that if repetition was all it took Sarah and Kate would have testicles, and drag-ons, and very puzzled, unhappy husbands.) Now, she knew from the moment she typed it, that it was a lie, an attempt to denigrate and belittle… but I am sure she – and her supporters rationalized her behavior as ‘for the greater good.’ Isn’t always? Had the boot been on the other foot – she’d have been outraged and demanding severe penalties for hate-speech. But hey, she was just doing it for greater diversity, more feminism etc. Completely OK. As the writer using someone like this as villain would then point out – by example, not by telling – that the same inner circle isn’t diversity etc. It’s an excuse.

It’s worth noticing that really, that besides point of view, the difference between heroes and villains in a good story seems to come down to this: They can both be wrong, misled, right royal assholes to an outside observer. Heroes, however, grow, learn, own responsibility, change. That’s really how so many much loved story-plots work, that it’s worth noting. In fiction at least, villains don’t. They won’t ever own their mistakes or grow- any change is for the negative. Even after the villains lost and the new order is vastly better for everyone – they still remain rooted in their belief. This seems true of real world – one merely has to look at unreconstructed Nazis and former East German apparachniks (and their kids – we have had to deal with one East German (adult) brat who still plainly yearns for the power daddy used to wield. Fiction imitates life.

Personally I have found the concept of cause (or government) being used as a justification, to what often boils down a purely self-centered desire for power – King Emeric, Elizabeth Bartholdy in the Heirs books, very effective.

On the other side of the coin: what doesn’t work? Besides the stereotype villain in scenes where we’re not supposed to know who the villain is. Scene from a typical Trad Publishing PC novel: with a black character, a gay male, a woman and white conservative Christian man, heterosexual…. You’ll NEVER guess who the traitor will be, would you?

One of the other problems I see so often with the stereotypical villain is what I call Bush cognitive dissonance. Remember it? ‘Bush is stupid’ AND ‘Bush orchestrated xyz fiendish byzantine plot’ that would have taken Macchiavelli crossed with Einstein, on brain-steroids to evolve and execute. I am so sick of stupid fiendish villains. Now, it is possible to have a villain with blind spots – but as a writer you need to prime the reader about this. It is possible for a villain to be both stupid and powerful (we see enough of that in modern politics). Large Empires – especially hereditary ones — tend to this all by themselves, even without author intervention. It is also likely that there will be corruption: corruption seeks power like a shark seeks blood in the water. Whether you talk of the cozy clique that evolved around the acquiring editors in publishing, or the camp-followers of Kim il Jung – that’s as certain as smelly baby having a ‘gift’ for you in its diaper, and possibly less pleasant.

Talking of villainy and just plain untrammeled evil (wot I learned back Orc boot-camp, between toe-nails and Mount Doom licking) let me put in a last encouragement to go and nominate for the Dragon Awards. You could – if you were short of YA suggestion – put up CHANGELING’S ISLAND.
It’s the last day to nominate, and no fees or memberships are required – just be a reader.


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55 responses to “Villainy, the root of all heroism

  1. On villains: I posted a discussion regarding characterizing bad guys for RPG purposes that works well for fiction too. It was based off of a week-long business strategy seminar by the McChrystal group, applied to the Big Bad Evil Guy.

    I’ve found it useful for both creating plotlines, but also for working through as a good-guy player in an RPG setting what is going on with the plot. “What does the bad guy want?” Power! Mwa ha ha! “OK, great. *What does he need power for?*” Ummm.

    • Having met quite a few real-world villain types. “What does he need power for” is somewhat pointless. Objectively none of them NEED power. They want it. And usually not for anything particularly specific. They want to do whatever the they want to whom ever they want for whatever reason strikes their fancy today.

      I tend to get very irritated at the assumption that people can’t just be flat out EVIL for no other reason than because they want to be evil. And that the excuses they make for it are just that: excuses for the sake of the audience with no bearing on what they, themselves, think or excuses that let them do the things they want to do that they know are vile and despicable AND feel virtuous and noble about it. (One of the appeals in the ISIS and ilk crowd.) They know they’re being evil and that’s part of the appeal. They get to have their cake and eat it too.

      The ones that are truly scary though, are the ones who deliberately steer for the most damage they can do, rather than simply wanting to do specific things that are evil. Their personal agendas are nice, but merely provide a frame work for the evil that is their goal. I’ve met one of those that I’m sure about, with a few others I suspect fall into this category.

      • Laura M

        There definitely are evil people. I think it’s hard to write them well, given the need Pam mentioned for fiction to make more sense than reality does.

        • Agreed there are evil people. I wonder, though, if they think of themselves as “evil,” or if they think that at best “there is no such thing as good and evil. The strong do what they like, the weak submit. That is the natural order of things.”

          I have both seen and experienced such – but I would wonder if these guys see themselves as evil, or just superior. Sure, one might be able to shave with the difference, but it’s a question of – in a way – villain self-image to me. Did Saddam Hussein feel he was being evil when he was feeding people to wood chippers or hungry dogs? Or just feel that what he wanted was what was good and right with the world, that the world existed to satisfy him?

          • Funny you should choose that example.

            • Politics aside, he (and even more so, his sons) was a fantastic example of a villain so outrageously cartoonish that he would be panned by reviewers as a cardboard cutout or unrealistic. But he (and his sons) were real, and did horrible horrible things.

            • I should also note that when I say “need” power, I was doing so in the explicit context of the post to which I linked, where McChrystal describes “strategy” as the defining of what you “need” in order to “win.” So I’m using it as a term of art, in a way, in that our antagonist wants a certain result – the world will look different at the end of the desired journey – and “power,” whether it be influence, command, violence, wealth, or fellowship/respect, is one of those things that is felt is needed in order to effect that end state.

              I just find the formulation espoused in The Matrix: “what do all men with power want? More power?” to be shallow. Sure, there are probably some that just use power and money to keep score, and want to rack up as many points as possible. But I suspect that for most, there’s a primary level to the motivation that is either deeper than keeping score, or at least rides alongside it. “No one can stop me if I have more power” is not that much deeper than “I want power for power’s sake,” but I find that more compelling as a rationale for both method and motivation.

              • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                One of Alan Dean Foster’s characters (in The Man Who Used the Universe) had the motivation of “I don’t want anybody to have power over me”.

                In many ways he wasn’t a nice guy but managed to arrange things so two powerful star nations (human and alien) saw him as a “Great Man”.

                While he had a good amount of personal wealth/power, he was viewed by the public & governments of both star nations as a Hero thus while the governments were still more powerful than him, they would not use their power against him.

                Note, Loo-Macklin is very rarely the POV character so we see him mainly from the point of view of other characters and nobody really knows what motivates him.

                Both humans and the aliens wonder if he’s a good guy or bad guy.

                Mind you, there was one hint about him midway in the book.

                He had no problems with one of his companies having gladiatorial games with the fighters getting killed but he vetoed the idea that the audience could vote on who would be killed.

              • Not always. “I want power” is a very primal drive. It drives people to the top of . The desire to be the smartest, the most powerful, the best looking, the strongest. The BEST at whatever. It’s one of the most fundamental ambitions in our species. Power can be used for things, but the other things aren’t the driving motivation, power is, BEST is. Everything else is an excuse. Stuff to do, games to play. Sidelines.

                • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                  Nit, I won’t call that “desire for power” but “desire to be the best” or “drive to be a success”.

        • My issue is I run into the cardboard villain exponentially less than I run into authors making excuses for evil because they like their villain more and haven’t bothered to have more than a cardboard hero. I’m rather sick of people making excuses for evil then patting themselves on the back because it makes the villain more ‘realistic.’ because ‘no one’s that evil’.

  2. Christopher M. Chupik

    “Bush cognitive dissonance. Remember it? ‘Bush is stupid’ AND ‘Bush orchestrated xyz fiendish byzantine plot’ that would have taken Macchiavelli crossed with Einstein, on brain-steroids to evolve and execute.”

    That one used to drive me nuts. Though some lefties modified it and made Cheney the super-evil mastermind, or Halliburton/Illuminati/bunnies . . .

    And remember when Bush was going to suspend the Constitution and become dictator-for-life? They certainly don’t.

    • And humans are (at the same time) no more competent and probably worse than all other animals including bacteria, but stronger than the sun because we alone can cause the climate to change.

    • Bob

      To give the devil his due, I think it’s possible to make it believable, with Bush or the Bush stand-in as the front man, genuinely well-meaning but not too bright, and with blind spots that his more venal backers and puppet masters in the shadows can exploit. The trouble is: you’d have to portray Bush himself in a somewhat charitable light, as more a tragic fool who’s doing what he believes is right, and not too many writers or readers have patience for that kind of nuance.

      And again, I’ve seen some of the same thing with Obama: a front man who’s not as smart as he thinks he is, or is smart in his own way, but running on faulty software and creating opportunities for bad guys to exploit. You can see some of that well-meaning wrongheadedness portrayed in the late Vince Flynn’s novels.

  3. *Sigh* Gee, Dave, thanks for complicating an already challenging story idea I had floating around. Now I have to make the bad guy believable? Oh Dave Freer No! 😉

    • I never thought of villains as that difficult, really. They’re just a different kind of hero.

      No, not anti-hero (that’s a squirrel of a different color), they are the hero- of their own story. For the villainous hero must have a *cause.* An end, a reason, even if that reason be simple madness. Does he slaughter villages down to the last child? Eh, nits make lice. Does he bomb civilians targets? He’s destroying the enemy’s will to fight. Does he enslave? Well, they weren’t human anyway.

      Sometimes the villain’s cause can even be noble, if in a twisted and hazy light. It’s not that he enjoys the torture. No, it’s necessary. The unclean must be purged/ the traitor must give up his info/ the guilty must be punished. It’s a moral duty. No, it’s not pleasurable, the screams, he tells himself even has he fights down a gleeful laugh…

      Or, if it’s unpleasant, it’s still his duty. Given the choice between his culture being wiped out and invading a neighboring province? He has his children to think of, his own, not some sniveling brats in some heathen hole. Best to get it done quickly, and quickly means crushing these threats as quickly as possible. To fight a “civilized” war would drag things out, would mean more casualties, more suffering. Best to nip it off quick, with a lightening raid and a few assassinations. A few heads on pikes and burnt towns, then back to the wife and kids.

      Or even there’s no such thing as innocent. Nobody’s that pure, everyone has something to answer for. Especially those fat cats, eating three meals a day. Sleeping warm and dry under a roof and four walls, while others have to stab someone for a scrap of meat. If they get stabbed themselves one dark night, wandering too close to the wrong neighborhood, good. And if their cozy little homes burn down with them inside, better. Welcome to the real world, suckers.

      And so on. Vile and twisted have their motivations, as well. Got to give the baddies their due- they are as human as the rest of us. Or orcish. *chuckle*

      • aacid14

        Biggest thing is avoiding simply saying they are a bigot or supremacist or the like. Majority of the time people reason or emote themselves into decisions. Sometimes they simply snowball.

        Someone like a serial killer can be interesting to catch but often it seems like they are the villain “just because”.

        • Like many things, _fictional_ villains have to be more believable than _real world_ villains. The motivation for so many real crimes seems amazingly insufficient.

          And the actions of World Leaders. Heck that some world leaders even really do exist amazes me at times. Try making sense of this presidential race, eh?

      • Bob

        I think it can be very effective to have a villain who’s just a pure, wretched, stupid, incompetent, shortsighted, spiteful, petty, venal slimeball, so long as the villain has an unfair advantage. Like the villains in Shawshank Redemption or Regal in Robin Hobb’s Farseer books. On an even playing field, the heroes could crush them, but due to their positions they keep getting away with their crimes. It works well in giving the hero something to fight against and obstacles to overcome.

        Unfortunately, a lot of my fellow would-be writers only manage the first part and not the second: the villains are pure scum, but they can’t manage to actually DO anything to the heroes, mainly causing temporary problems for the heroes to fix, then tripping over their own two feet.

        The result: I don’t love to hate them or even hate them, just see them as annoying irritants and want them gone. I don’t even particularly relish their defeats, I just don’t want to read about them.

    • My work here is done 😉

  4. I remember a video of various scenes of Disney villains (and some heroes at the beginning of their movies, when they were still jerks), saying what a bad example Disney movies were for young boys, glorifying such actions. I had trouble believing that people were so stupid as to believe it.

    (Really, Disney, et al, have a very short time to establish character, and use short-cuts to show that do is a villain, expecting that everyone will understand. And the kids do.)

  5. It might be useful to employ the “basic motive” theory when designing a villain. The theory goes that most people are motivated by one of three concepts: love, money (things), or power. It would be a mistake to assume that a person motivated by love is always right, or that a person motivated by power is always wrong, because we can point out real-life counterexamples*. A villain cannot work counter to their base motivation… and neither can the hero.

    *Auto-corrupt tried to change this to “countries ankles.”

  6. Laura M

    I loved Changeling’s Island. Thanks for the DragonCon link. It was a blessing for the lazy.

  7. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    IMO one of the problems of creating “good villains” is when the writer “blurs” the difference between “being a hero” and “being a villain”.

    IE the only reason to “root for the good guys” is that the writer is obviously on their side but there’s no real difference between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.

    Oh, that may be the reason for the “virtue signaling villains”. The writer’s heroes aren’t that “good” but at least they are fighting the designated villains of the Liberal mindset. 😦

  8. The Other Sean

    How about what the hero must struggle against is not a human opponent, but circumstances or the environment?

  9. aacid14

    One thought experiment that came to me is to look at the base motivation of the villain and see how the actions would be different if it was done by a hero. For instance, a hero and villain driven by revenge. One becomes a vigilante, the other a detective. What causes the difference between the two.

    • Laura M

      To riff on your theme, one guy feels the law let him down. We understand that, but he’s bad because he thinks he can be police and executioner. It would help make him more villainous if he killed an innocent, and, although that would be his chance to change his ways, he doesn’t take it but excuses his mistake with half-baked rationalizing. The other fellow doesn’t want to become someone like the first guy and goes into law enforcement. His character gets tested, too, but he doesn’t turn to the dark side in his behavior, no matter how emotionally tried he is. Maybe they’re brothers.

      • aacid14

        Ya. Actually if I can ever sit down and finish editing it’s kinda a theme I’m working on. Great loss can twist a person and a single difference in viewpoint is the fork in the road. I’m not a huge fan of the sappy ‘everyone a victim’ stories but most people do not simply snap

        • Laura M

          Agreed, and there’s something cloying about reading a really badly done villain.

          Aside from making a villain the suspect class of the hour, the other technique that fails (IMHO) is to have the villain gratuitously torture people (and make us watch). Sure you hate the guy, but yuck. Making gratuitous torture understandable also requires more time spent in the villain’s head than necessary. My interest in a long explanation about how someone became wildly twisted is pretty low.

          • aacid14

            Ya. Ill admit my squick factor is pretty high, so I don’t mind some gorn but stuff like saw are more than I prefer.

            Problem is that a well done antagonist should be as interesting as the protagonist. Plus insulting reader by putting up a mannequin with what you think your enemy thinks is a great way to impart kinetic energy to your book

          • Isn’t there a TV Trope about that… Something about kicking a puppy….?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Well, even with the vigilante model, you can have the Batman, the Punisher or an “insane” vigilante.

      Batman acted outside of the Law but took pains to make sure his targets are actually guilty.

      The Punisher was a murderer many times over but still wanted to sure that he was “killing the right people”.

      An “insane” vigilante would be one who never doubted that the ones he killed deserved death.

    • That’s kind of the theme in the musical Hamilton. Hamilton and Burr are presented as two characters with vast ambition but different strategies: Hamilton grabs for every opportunity and Burr keeps his options open by not committing himself. In the second act, they start adopting the other’s strategy, but it’s effective for Hamilton, not Burr, and that’s presented as why their final conflict is somewhat inevitable.

      And as presented in the musical, Hamilton succeeds because he’s working with principles, while Burr is out for himself. (The historical record seems to bear this out; the musical is actually kinder to Burr than most histories.) It’s so well done that it’s hardly surprising that it’s the hottest ticket on Broadway. (The musical is sung through, no dialogue, so everything except one short scene is on the soundtrack.)

  10. Bob

    I find it interesting when the hero and villain have some similarities, but the villain represents the hero’s faults if taken too far. I always think of Marlow and Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, where Marlow feels some instinctive kinship and understanding for Kurtz, all while recognizing him as an enemy and abhorring his actions.

    There’s also the trick of showing degrees of corruption. Showing instances of the villain at an earlier time, just starting down that path, then showing them the end point. Tolkien was good at showing these stages. You had Aule and his innocent desire to create things and make things better, in favor of the rest of the world, then Sauron and Saruman, who had those same basic desires, but twisted into a desire for control.

    It’s an opportunity I think Rowling missed with Voldemort, who seemed bad from birth.

    • John R. Ellis

      As I recall, one of the Appendixes in Return of the King make it clear that Sauron originally planned to use the One Ring to heal Middle Earth and stave off entropy….then it sunk in just how powerful it was….consequently old, bad habits took over.

      (Then again, what can you really expect of a guy who was once beat up by a talking dog?)

      I don’t think Voldemort is less developed than Sauron, though. Sauron in LotR is mostly kept off-page, his motivations mostly unspoken, he’s the Evil Guy and that’s it.

      (The back story we get in the Appendix and in other works never really connects with the main narrative.)

      So, they’re both mostly just presented as bad. Sauron because he was once a servant of “The Great Enemy” who returned to type and Voldemort because his mother conceived him via a “love” potion that somehow left him warped from early on.

      In both cases, it’s only with other characters that we get a deeper, more nuanced and full look at why they chose what they did.

  11. I realized one of the shorthands for villainy that really turned my stomach was the rape of the main female character by the bad guy. Not because of the rape (rape is bad, in all ways, agreed? I can’t believe I have to say something so obvious but after reading this site and seeing what happens to sentences taken out of context on purpose to attack conservatives…) but for the bowing to ”realism”. As a reader, I am not looking for realism in that way, I empathize and like the female characters (usually) and I don’t want them to be raped in what is, essentially, in fantasy, an adventure story. Yes, peril is good, derring-do is awesome, last-minute rescues, all cool, but when the main female character gets raped I just get irritated.

    First, because it means the hero failed because while being raped may not be as bad as death it’s still really bad (and if the villain just kills the main female character then you have a hollow story as the hero tries to rescue something that isn’t rescuable. Like a daring heist to steal a castle… ooooh, I’m a use that). Second, if that was the villain’s goal (get the girl) they’ve already got the girl so they’ve already ”won”.

    And third, and most important, I am tired of this kind of realism and no longer hate the villains that do the rape, but the writers that write it. For me, and maybe only me, it is the worst example of author intrusion in that it makes me notice the author and it takes me a while as a reader to allow the author to go invisible again.

    The normal, ridiculous, mustache twirling conservatives that are in so very many novels now just make me laugh. I can’t take them seriously. Those writers who use those characters have been told to not use clichés and yet can’t help themselves. I think they think they are being one percent true to life. One gets the feeling as a reader that they believe they have never met a conservative.

    They have, we exist everywhere, but they are so obviously virulent and nasty about it in real life that the conservatives probably don’t want to bother ”exposing” themselves because the attacks will come fast and furious.

    • Bob

      That kind of thing ticks me off if it comes out of nowhere and seems to violate the tone or mood of the story as it has been set up so far.

      And when the writer insists in shoving the details in my face and being near pornographic about it.

      One of my beta readers actually got on my case about it. She was upset that I mentioned that a character had been raped, but (from the beta’s perspective) seemed to brush it aside. I felt it was necessary to, since this was the sort of society where that sort of thing would happen, and it would be unrealistic not to acknowledge it, but my beta felt I was somehow minimizing or normalizing rape.

      Whereas if I’d have gone into the viscera, so to speak, I’d have probably been accused of making rape porn.

      You just can’t win.

      • Agreed. I suspect if I ever get enough readers, someone will object because things are alluded to but not seen, and someone else will groups because of what little is seen (the effects, not the deed itself.)

        Rape happened in the Cat books for reasons clear in the story and quite “understandable” from the Bad Guys’ view of things (they are in the process of destroying a creature that is a walking insult to the hierarchy, that violates laws still seem to be critical to species survival, and are making an example of why no one else should do what the MC and her parents did). And it all happens off stage. The big point in the next two books is/will be how the MC and her allies deal with what happened, among other things.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      “One gets the feeling as a reader that they believe they have never met a conservative.”

      Of course, they have, they just didn’t recognize them because real conservatives are very different than their straw counterparts.

    • But what if it is the other way round? Our novel series contains a scene in which our young male hero is raped by a girl who exploits a moment of utter psychic desolation to get pregnant from him, and we found to our surprise that some female readers approved of her act, claiming he had deserved all she has done to him.

  12. Bob

    There’s also the villain who knows very well what he’s doing is wrong, but he cares about something else or something he sees as the greater good so much that he feels he has to carry on.

    The villains in the second and third seasons of Fringe have that motive: they’re inhabitants of an alternate dimension, and either our dimension or theirs has to go, because only one can exist.

    The inhumi from Gene Wolfe’s Long Sun/Short Sun books have to prey on sentient beings to achieve and maintain their own sentience.

    It always disappointed me that Nero never tried to make that kind of argument in the Star Trek reboot. He could’ve argued that the reality he created by going back in time had no validity, and he was justified in taking any action he believed would result in changing history to avert his own tragic future.

  13. mrsizer

    I’m only writing this because David is the author of this post and the book…

    I wish you had followed this advice in Star Dogs. I found everyone villainous. Granted there were degrees; from “throw him out the airlock and graphically describe his death” to “if everyone dies in the desert, that’s a fair cost”

    Please write a sequel in which the Guild gets what it deserves.

    • That is the intent. I was – as a younger author, overworking the change through changed circumstances trope – all of the characters change, even the worst.

  14. “Heroes, however, grow, learn, own responsibility, change. That’s really how so many much loved story-plots work, that it’s worth noting. In fiction at least, villains don’t. They won’t ever own their mistakes or grow- any change is for the negative.”

    I disagree with that. The most interesting villains are those who may be capable of redemption. Think of Gollum who has his moment when he almost does it. Or, why was Leader Desslok from “Star Blazers” so popular? Because he was a “villain at a high level”, a small mean dictator too much of an aristocrat to become a big mean dictator (and he discovered that the villainry of his chosen allies transgressed even the boundaries of his own moral standards). Villains may also reveal attractive facets of their personality that make them interesting to the audience – Gul Dukat in “Deep Space Nine” was one of the best examples.

    I myself prefer to use characters that are capable of both. One of my main topics is to explore how good people are tempted to doing evil things, and this requires a less strict division of good and evil than other stories might. And even our villains are, sometimes, capable of generous acts.