If you truly love your villains, then you need to do something very hard:
If they die, let them die.
We don’t mean you should engage in wholesale slaughter. We still feel that, most of the time, stories where lots of characters die on a regular basis have a number of challenges in terms of letting your audience feel safe caring about them.
But if a villain dies–let the villain die. Let your stakes be real. Let death matter.
It’s not impossible to find a really fascinating plot twist or a great reason for someone’s return. We’re not saying it’s never possible. We’re just saying: the world is damn tired of seeing villains go down, only to see them get right back up again in a sequel or, even worse, another chapter.
It’s fairly frustrating even in video games, and games have an excuse–they need a reason for the Boss Battle to evolve, because the person taking in the media has some control over their own destiny. Even inside of games, though, players want–and deserve–an opportunity to fight something evolving, something that becomes new enough that there’s meaningful change.
Sure, we love villains–this is an entire blog about the love of villainy. But the truth is, a really beloved villain deserves:
- A meaningful death. Why has this powerful force in the story been taken out of it? What purpose does it serve?
- A death which affects us emotionally. If we don’t care about the villain’s end–even to rejoice–then perhaps we haven’t been sufficiently hooked into her life.
- A death which is permanent and true; a real reason to mourn her if we cared about her, a reason to feel relief if we feared her.
It’s true – you can bring your villain back. You’re the writer and creator; you can do anything. But some powers need to be used very, very sparingly. Because if villain death loses meaning, then the villain loses meaning–and if that happens, the whole tale could lose its impact altogether.
-Dark Lord Journal
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