Writing Tips

#WW When The Villain Isn’t A Person

I LOVE villains, and I have ever since I was child. I mean, have you watched a Disney movie? The villains are always shiny and scary and have the best sing-along songs. The villains are cool, and it’s even better when you fall in love with villains in novels, too. That being said, we have many aspects of villains we need to work on—like Writing Complex Female Villains—and villains who aren’t people.

What are some options?

Protagonist vs. Antagonist: The most common type of villain is the evil antagonist, the foreboding man with a cape and an evil master plan to take over the world. Okay. So storylines vary, but you get my point. Most villains are just that: Villains. One person vs. another person. They tend to have opposite ideals, and now they must fight one another to see who gets to win it all in the end. Think: Batman and Joker. 

Protagonist vs. Nature: Think of Twister, Contagion, or Jaws. This type of villain can be a storm, a disease, or an animal. Anything and everything that makes up nature can be a villain. You can get personal—with a single storm, like one approaching hurricane—or you can get HUGE—with extreme climate change all over the world. The best part about exploring Protagonist vs. Nature is putting your protagonist back on the food chain, so to speak. These types of stories, more than likely, take away any “power” humans believe they have, and that can feel pretty twisted at times. In fact, it almost makes it less about being a hero and more about surviving.

In my life story, I am definitely fighting myself all the time. Writing is tough!

Protagonist vs. Self: Okay. So this is technically a “person” but think about as an ASPECT of that person. This could be an insecurity that dictates their life or a fear that prevents them from reaching a goal. This happens a lot in books centered on mental health. Now, please don’t think I’m calling mental health villainess. I’m not. But I am saying that it can be the force the hero is fighting…whether they are fighting against it, how to manage it, or how to accept it is the journey. The upcoming book, The Weight of Zero, is a great example of this. This is also common in athletics, especially if the story focuses on winning or reaching a goal rather than beating one particular opponent. This could also be a “finding yourself” story or even a coming-of-age tale.

Man vs. Society: Think of The Giver or Divergent or The Hunger Games. These types of books, more or less, revolve around society’s dysfunctions (or disagreements) as a whole. While there might be a “face” often seen in the books, the face is rare and fleeting, and the true evil resides in the beliefs of ALL rather than in one or two people.

The best part? More often than not, villains are a combination of these concepts. For instance, an extreme change in climate (Protagonist vs. Nature) could create a disease that drives your protagonist crazy (Protagonist vs. Himself), and now that character must prove to society that they have to change if they’ll have any hope at all of surviving (Protagonist vs. Society). No matter what though, it’s important to remember that a villain is the hero in their story. This goes for antagonists, nature, self, society, etc. Example from Protagonist vs. Nature? That man-eating creature in the woods is eating people because it’s protecting its young, not because it just loves eating people and wrecking lives. It’s really about perspective. Bonus points goes to likeable villains or villains we can sympathize with.

In my upcoming release, Bad Bloods would fall under this Protagonist vs. Society.

Bad Bloods in 35 words or less: 17-year-old Serena is the only bad blood to escape execution. Now symbolized for an election, she must prove her people are human despite hindering abilities before everyone is killed and a city is destroyed.

The protagonist is fighting to prove her people are human since society doesn’t see them that way. Rather than fight or try to convince each citizen one by one, they must fight the fundamental makeup of their city to overcome unwelcome hatred. There is a “face” behind the political group, but he only shows up twice and has very little importance to the storyline. (Protagonist vs. Society). However, the protagonist has hindering abilities and unresolved issues, and it causes her a lot of physical and mental pain. (Protagonist vs. Self) On top of that, she lives on the street in the middle of winter. She is very much fighting the Protagonist vs. Nature battle every single day. You don’t have to choose one villain, but be aware of your ultimate villain and the little ones in between.

Combine, twist, and have fun.

Not all villains need to be people. Not all villains wear capes.


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11 thoughts on “#WW When The Villain Isn’t A Person

  1. One good point to make about villlains is that, while it’s okay to mix and match the types of villains, it can get messy fast if you have more than one villain of the SAME type in one story. Think Spiderman 3. Too many antagonists plus a hero-against-himself storyline, and it was just a mess. It can be done and done well (think Avatar:TLA), but it is difficult.

    1. Oh, yes! I second that. I definitely think there should be a focused antagonist, or it turns into a continuous battle of random events instead of a situation to ultimately overcome (or to lose to).

  2. The mention of Spider-Man 3 above has me wondering if the ‘too many heroes’ system is another issue. We don’t really think about that since it’s only a recent creation thanks to BvS (we’ll agree to disagree there) and Civil War. One of my issues with Avengers 2 was that there were so many characters that very few of them got enough attention. Hawkeye seemed to get the most while the others were either treading water, coming off one dimensional, or very forgettable. I mean, Thor did stuff in that movie, right?

    Also, I do have a question about one statement. Do you think it’s possible to create a villain who knows he’s a villain? This is probably more for human enemies where they have come to terms with their darkness. This is kind of like a lot of Saturday Morning Cartoon villains that were evil for the sake of being evil. Is such a character a bad idea to create?

    tAlso, where would Protagonist vs Machine fit in like HAL 9000?

    1. Great questions! First, there is definitely hero v. machine, along with many others. I only covered a few. 🙂 Personally, I think a villain who “knows he’s a villain” still thinks he’s a hero in his story. Ex. Revenge. Even though revenge is frowned upon and might be unnecessary, revenge is used as a driving force for heroes and villains all the time. Granted, I do think you could just have an evil person. I read about serial killers a lot. (Oops.) And quite a few of the first ones simply explained themselves as having the devil in them. No rhyme or reason. They just liked killing. Lastly, I definitely think you can have too many heroes. They say every character you name in a story needs an arc, and you’re making that harder to get depth with each character you add, especially if they are on the same side. But that’s just my lil ol’ opinion. 😉

      1. Great point on every character needing an arc. Even a small one would work. I think series do have an advantage where an arc can be extended, but you need to give a payout or progress every time. Kind of gets ridiculous when one character is in several stories and seems to be in the same place every time. Working win an ensemble set of heroes in my stories, I try to give each one a moment to shine even if they aren’t the key character of the specific book.

        The ‘I like killing’ characters are the ones I was thinking of. Ones like Carnage (Spider-Man villain) and Joker seem to have no belief that they’re heroes. So it is interesting to think of them that way. Maybe they think they’re causing others to become tougher or something. Joker does have that thing about testing Batman.

      2. Yeah, I think they can be “I like killing,” but hey, that’s a reason. Even the evil-through-and-through villain needs a reason, even if it is “the devil is inside of me.” I think that sort of villain would be harder to write outside of comic books, but hey, writers love a challenge. 😀

      3. The only way I managed to pull it off in my series is because I have multiple villains. If you have others with redeeming qualities or a sense of being heroes then the ‘monster’ can function better. It becomes a threat to both sides, which grows until somebody has to step in. The best way to explain it is that he works in contrast to the others, which enhances his evil and shows that the heroes need to fight him differently than the others.

  3. This is a great article.

    One note: you can call mental health illnesses a villain. I have suffered from Depression for years and I would definitely call it an evil disease; the lies that depression tells you are definitely villainous, the worst being that you should be ashamed for being who you are and that you don’t deserve help. If that ain’t a villain then I don’t know what else to call it. Add on top the social stigma and it is definitely something a protagonist can struggle with.

    Pulling back away from the word ‘villain’ and instead opt for antagonist, then mental illness can definitely be an antagonist for the protagonist to fight within themselves. My depression has stopped me from doing and enjoying so much of my own life over the years, that is is very much the antagonist in the story of my life.

    1. You are completely right! I think I didn’t want to call it a villain just because I didn’t want someone to think I was saying they were a villain for having a mental illness (rather than the depression being the villain). You can write an entire article about mental illness depicted in fiction. It’s such a complicated and necessary topic, and I’m glad to see more of it in fiction nowadays. Thank you for reading and sharing your story! Great comment!

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