Often when coming up with the concept for our villains, the first thing that comes to mind is considering what kind of Evil they shall wreak upon the world. Be it conquest of all known lands or crushing all who stand in their way under a hobnailed boot, great villains often have dark schemes in mind.
However, does a character have to be Evil to be a villain?
One advice we hear often is that a villain should be developed enough to be the protagonist in his own story. Another is that villains should sometimes think that they are doing what is either necessary or right.
Do they have to be the embodiment of pure evil, or can they just have different opinions from our protagonists?
In my current project – Warriors of Understone – the conflict in the book is internal to the society of dwarves that I have created. There could have been a goblin invasion or some other such external conflict, but exploring an intricate web of political rivalries seemed like an interesting background upon which to build a tale that features the oft-sidelined stout folk.
The primary antagonist in this book is Thane Volgas, a lord of some renown and influence within the city of Understone. He is a staunch proponent of maintaining the traditions of his people. His fight is not one of conquest or oppression, but one of preserving the values which he and most in his culture hold as the best path to a stable society.
Supporting him is Shagoth, one of his warriors and cousin to our protagonist; Durgan. Shagoth is less complicated in his motivations as Volgas, but he is a loyal follower of his lord. He looks down upon the labor caste, and persecutes his cousin mercilessly.
The conflict herein is the struggle of change versus tradition. The antagonistic side of the conflict wishes to maintain the status quo, and our hero wishes to make changes in society that he feels would benefit his people. Durgan, with the help of Thane Marthok, fights to allow those born into the labor caste to make their own way in life. As a stonecutter’s son, he is fated to follow in his father’s footsteps. He wishes to become a warrior, and Marthok is helping him to achieve this.
Our villains, therefore, are only antagonists because their political and social views oppose those of our protagonists. Writing the story from their perspective, Durgan and Marthok could be painted as upstarts and rebels trying to upset the stability of the kingdom.
So, as we see here, villainy does not always include evil as a pre-requisite. There are many forms of conflict that we can explore, and we have little further than our own world to look for inspiration. Examining our own political situations can inspire many interesting possibilities, and discussing these through the lens of fiction can also open new dialogues that could change our own world.