Story Elements: The Villain

From the campy fun of Dr. Evil to the scheme-concocting villainy of Ernst Blofeld upon whom he was based, everyone loves a good villain. From the insane brutality of the Joker to the suavity of Dracula, nothing haunts our dreams like the potential for evil. From the revenge-driven furor of Captain Ahab to the unending conniving of Iago (not the parrot), nothing drives along a story like a dastardly foe.

Aside from being oh-so-convenient to the plot, villains serve a deeper purpose. Our self definition is as much what we are as what we are not. Heroes inspire us, paragons of the ‘Thou Shalt’s. Villains repulse us, murky examples of the ‘Thou Shalt Not’s.

As put by Jung (yes, another Jung reference…my apologies to any die-hard Freudians out there), “We know that the wildest and most moving dramas are played not in the theatre but in the hearts of ordinary men and women who pass by without exciting attention, and who betray to the world nothing of the conflicts that rage within them.” Here he was discussing his Shadow archetype, the elements of evil and darkness that exist within each of us.

Perhaps it is with this Shadow that the villains of fiction resonate, that part of us to which they speak. Therein lies the greater depth of writing, when you can create a villain with a bit of yourself within them, that kernel of truth and humanity. In turn, we can all realize that a bit of the villain resides within us, an inevitable blight upon even the purest soul.

9 comments Posted 2009-07-15 Author: THX 0477


  • Mighty-Joe Young (A.K.A Strong Coffee)(LoA)

    who are you?
    And if you are here, who is running the universe?

  • R O'Keeffe

    Thoughtful. I also love the word suavity – new one to me!

  • Marli

    Put in a bit of yourself (or someone else as with Sweeny Todd) to make it ring true. But only the darstardly bits. Reach into your very bowels for inspiration.
    Thanks for the tip THX.(Therapy indeed.0

  • ALRO613 (LoA)

    Villains are my favorite part of the story. Anti-heroes are EVEN BETTER!
    Nothing like being a reader of a story, and cheering for the bad guy!

  • bluefish

    I resist the urge to label people heroes and villains; as a writer, I try to always understand my antagonists, to see the world from their perspective. Often, the villains really are the most interesting because the way they think is atypical, and we all like to tread new paths of thought. Or maybe only some of us do. ;)

  • Mighty-Joe Young (A.K.A Strong Coffee)(LoA)

    hey you know an interesting fact is that of all the works that kurt vonnegut ever did there is not one villain

  • THX 0477

    I must admit that I haven’t read Vonnegut, but from what I can gather the “villain”, though not a singular entity, would have either been society at large (villain en masse) or the not infrequently seen ‘villain within’. That is to say, in a lot of great story, the greatest conflict ever told is man’s struggle against his own nature. Thanks for the Literary shout-out to Vonnegut, Mighty-Joe! Now I’ve got a few more books on my to-read list.

  • NinjaChicken

    This is an excellent blog topic. Very well done.

  • Eloquent Mess {(LoA)}

    I’ve always felt more empathy for the villains, in some way or another. I can find that human flaw, the black spot on their record that made them who they are, and transform them from horrible beasts to disadvantaged people. And once that’s done, well, there’s nothing left but pity.

    Granted, the Hero still has to do his duty and destroy the evildoers (or at least foil their plan), but I never fail to feel that little pang of regret when the villain falls at the hands of his rival.