It’s well-known that most villains don’t consider themselves evil. Each of us is, after all, the hero of his own story. You don’t want your antagonists to be “bad” simply because it make your protagonists “good” by default; whether or not you’re writing about the complexities of morality, your characters can’t have much of an arc if they simply choose their worldviews based on the convenience of plot.
That being said…there are some incredible reasons your characters might choose villainy. Let’s explore a few.
Villainy rebels against conventional morality. We’re always told to “be good”. We’re told to accept a given set of ethics, morals, and beliefs as being reality, even though those things have all changed dramatically throughout history and all over the world. Your villains can make a choice: They don’t want to be part of that construction. They’re opting out. They’re carving their own path, and that path may be powered by deception or blood or pain or criminality…but it’s theirs, no-one else’s. And for that character, that may mean everything.
Villainy can be both vocation and avocation. Does crime actually pay, statistically? It depends on what you call crime; for example, there’s a certain leading soft drink company which really did put cocaine in its beverages at one point – that was perfectly legal at the time. And some crimes can be technically legal, but morally shady. (Woody Guthrie said it best, in his song “Pretty Boy Floyd”: “Some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen“.) There may not be proof that crime is actually more profitable than working within an existing legal structure. But in your fictional universe, your villain might have chosen crime simply because it seemed like a good career path, one that suites her. The Stainless Steel Rat enjoys stealing from banks, even when he doesn’t need the money; he even justifies it by saying that he never hurts anyone, and the futuristic financial establishments involved all get the money back from insurance.
Villainy is fascinating. What’s it like to do things that most others consider deeply wrong? What’s it like to be hated and feared? What kind of soul-searching is involved in being so different from others that you’re labelled a villain? What made the villain that way? What keeps her on that path? It’s not simply about egotism or self-fascination. It’s about the rich internal life of being at constant odds with societal expectation, being confronted (and confronting) that level of being different from everyone else. Our challenges make us who we are, and villains are challenged by the entire rest of the world. That could fuel a level of drive and desire far beyond the reach of the “normal” life of “goodness”.
-The Dark Lord Journal
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