“You Would Have Done the Same, Were You as Wise as I and in my Place.” (Villains’ Version)

Fun fact: that is not a quote from the Mad Titan. I invented it, but it acts as a sort of blanket statement for this entire article. This is a quote that characterizes the views of a few well-written villains. In the future, I’ll work on the Heroes’ version (starring the one and only Dark Knight of Gotham) but for now, let’s just discuss the concept.

You ever hear the saying “judge not, lest ye be judged” (Mathew 7:1, New Testament)? It also lives on in the old adage “never judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. The idea is the same: you can’t know everything about a certain individual, even if you know them well.

Therefore, judging them based on their actions can result in hasty judgement. Likely, there was some factor on the outside that caused them to do what they did, and instead you (or anyone else, that is) belittled the other person’s decision-making skills as a result.

You can’t quite comment on the decisions of other people (at least fully, that is) until you know everything they know and you put yourself in the same position as he or she was. This is, of course, impossible, so the point of the saying is just to not judge the other person, because it’s impossible to know why they made the choices that they did.

This is where I could veer off into a discussion about morality, so I’m going to gently push the conversation back into literature. So what does this all have to do with villains? Well, let’s start out by saying that well-written villains make sense, just like well-written heroes often do.

From there, we have to ask ourselves: what makes the villain make sense? Surely, from our standpoint, it may seem that Thanos’ destruction of the universe makes no sense whatsoever. On the bare bones of the story, at least we understand that the bad guy is, well, bad, and the good guy is the one that rises to oppose him.

However…what if we’re judging Thanos? Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a depraved moral monster, but Thanos probably would say, “You would have done the same, were you as wise as I and in my place.” It’s no secret that what Thanos thinks what he’s doing is justified. Thanos believes that he is morally right in his genocide (which makes him somewhat of a tragic hero…but that’s the topic of another article).

This idea–the idea of making the villain honestly justified in his or her own mind–is a great idea. It gives the villain purpose and meaning, just like how the hero or heroine’s motive gives them purpose. Gone are the cheesy “well, the villain’s just the bad guy” or “the bad guy’s not really bad“. Instead, adding a robust motive to your villain is a great avenue.

For a few simple tips on how to do this, play on sympathetic ideas: ideas of family, wealth, comfort, loss, and sorrow. Maybe even justice or duty. Playing off of these ideas can allow you to add the motive to the monster. Make the monster real and sincere–in their own, twisted way, of course.

Add some sympathy to your villain. Give them a point and let your reader see things from his or her perspective. Of course, the goal isn’t to make them believe the villain’s standpoint, but certainly to help them become acquainted with and to better understand it.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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