Writing Tips

Not All Villains Think They’re Good

“Every villain is the hero in their own story” is a common, popular writing tip, and while I agree, I think it is sometimes confused with “Every villain thinks they’re the good guy.” There’s a difference between thinking you’re a hero and thinking you’re a good guy, and not every villain thinks they’re a good guy.

Though the word “hero” in itself has a positive connotation, I argue that villains can still be a “hero” in their own mind while also being aware they are doing something wrong or harmful. Take revenge plots as an example. Most often seen in thrillers, a protagonist could be solely out to seek revenge, whether or not that revenge is warranted. In fact, many believe revenge isn’t “justice” and therefore isn’t heroic. But, at the same time, a revenge-seeking protagonist will think of themselves as a hero without believing they are a good guy. A good example of this is Gerard Butler in Law Abiding Citizen. While he is seeking revenge for his family’s deaths, he kills many people who probably didn’t deserve to be hurt at all. And he’s aware of it. In fact, he uses it as a weapon against others. Therefore, he is a hero for his family, a villain to a lot of innocent people, and definitely the protagonist. But a good guy? I think he gave up that concept a long time ago.

Good guy? Bad guy? Who knows?

Granted, don’t get me wrong, I love a villain who thinks they’re the good guy. I love villains who tiptoe on the good/wrong line more. But I wish we saw more villains that were simply villains—bad guys doing bad things because they want to. Their psyche can be just as deep as someone who is doing bad things for “good reasons” or someone who thinks they’re doing good things when they’re in fact doing bad ones. But we’ve sort of obsessed over “bad guy thinks he’s good” recently…when I think we should be focused on making villains round characters.

Round someone who thinks they’re good all the time.

Round = character who does good and bad things based on many types of motivation.

People aren’t so black and white. No one is purely good or thinks they’re good, and no one is all bad either. One of my favorite, eerie quotes is that, yes, serial killers sometimes help grandma cross the street. In fact, serial killers are often some of the most charming people around. But if you study serial killers, (and you’re a True Crime junkie like I am), then you know serial killers are generally aware that what they’re doing is SUPER messed up…yet they do it anyway. And then, they go to work and school and raise families and so on and so forth. Aside from killers like Charles Cullen* (no relation to Twilight), they hardly ever think they’re being a good guy.

Villains can be bad guys who know they’re bad and do bad things regardless. Just make sure they’re 3D while they carry out those dastardly deeds.

Instead of “every villain thinks they’re the hero of their own story”, let’s change it to “every villain thinks they’re the protagonist of their own story—whatever that entails.” In fact, keep this is mind for every character. Your novel will love you for it.

*Charles Cullen, also known as ‘The Angel of Death’, was a nurse in a hospital who killed over 400 patients. He thought he was “mercy killing.” Keep in mind that many of his victims were in good health. He is currently considered the biggest serial killer in American History.


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21 thoughts on “Not All Villains Think They’re Good

  1. I’ve noticed a lot of ‘villains must think they’re the good guys’ mentalities over the years. I think it became a trend that many people push for some reason. Doesn’t seem to work out for every type. I get one who thinks horrible ends justify the means like how Watchmen ended. But I find it odd when a serial cannibal claims to be morally right. Some people, real and fake, are simply evil. Either born or grown that way, they take pleasure in doing harm. Seems to just be how it is.

    1. Exactly! I’m all for a villain who thinks they’re good, but – at the same time – it’s been overdone (or forcibly done when unwarranted). It’s okay to have a villain who is evil, knows they are evil, and are being evil anyway for a motivation outside of “right and wrong.”

      1. Something to be said for one who admits to being evil. It’s even a little more frightening. A villain who things they’re good or has any good can be reasoned with in some fashion. The pure evil ones are almost like forces of nature. No words can stop them.

      2. That is an excellent point! I think they would be scarier in many ways. UGHHHHH. This makes me want to write a super twisted, super evil villain in my next book.

      3. I did one in my series and he wasn’t the main one. Kind of caused a problem with the bad villain not being the most evil one, so I have to get him up there before the finale. Honestly, I do enjoy the remorseless psychos because their fairly simplistic in goals and motivations. A breath of fresh air among the more complicated ones.

  2. Great post. You’re right. Some individuals are totally aware of their actions and the consequences of those actions. They don’t want to be good.

  3. It does get annoying that sympathetic villains get overused mostly movies instead of Simple Evil Villains or unsympathetic Villains for Hollywood Movies which for Hollywood movies has become a low percentage.
    It sounds like you want the Simple Villains which can be done right. Freddy Krueger this was before the Freddy’s Dead, The Villains in Last House on the Left great remake, Screwface, Lord Voldemort, The murderer from The Watcher, etc.

    You’ll be happy to know that I’ve created Evil Villains that are done right. Evil as in they don’t preach some bullcrap they are the good guy, the ends justify the means, or no other way to accomplish their goals, etc.
    These are super villains in the comic book universe I created. Other kinds of Super Villains in my comic book Universe.

    My main goal is to get my super hero comic books published.

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