The Villain That Could Have Been The Hero

If you’re writing a novel, I’ll reckon that you spent a lot of time perfecting your main character(s). You determined what drives them, what brings them together, who’s more of an antihero type and who’s the main protagonist. This is pretty easy to do, because you see things from their perspective. If you were the reader, you’d be rooting for these guys.

But have you ever considered doing the same for the villain? It actually surprises me how many villains are superficial. You probably haven’t considered why the villain does what he or she does–at least, in depth. But are you able to see from the villain’s perspective? You may know what drives the villain, but do you know why?

When the strongest heroes fall, they make more wicked (and better overall) villains. Lucifer, one of the highest angels of God’s kingdom, decided to defy his master. We now know him as Satan, or the devil: the worst villain in history. When a strong angel falls, it becomes a strong devil. When you have a villain who could have been a hero we could get behind and root for, you’ve got a good villain

Do not underestimate this in your storytelling. Even though your villain is bad and does inhuman things, you have to consider that they themselves are human and have to have a justification for it. In the Ultimate Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus was extremely smart and talented as a child, but no one recognized his skills. This drove him to make other people respect him through acknowledging his power, and did so with violence.

Consider this: try having a villain/hero duality of mindset. Imagine that the hero and the villain grew up together as siblings. Then something terrible happened to the family: the parents were killed, the bank suffered a collapse, or a family member is taken to prison. The hero sibling realizes that this can’t be helped and starts to rebuild their life. The villain sibling takes matters into their own hands, usually through crime and vengeance.

Crap hitting the fan is what separates the heroes from the villains. In this instance, both the hero and the villain passed through the same trial, but with different results. This has to do with something about their character: if you have two children, and they both love their parents, but one of them holds grudges and the other is not, you’ve got your excuse. When something bad happens to said parents, the one who holds grudges is going to be on the warpath.

Here is where you begin the villain’s journey from antihero status to villain. First they start off as a good person with a flaw, but since evil is corrupting, that flaw will grow until it consumes the villain. So let’s say the parents’ death leaves one of the children devastated but humbled, and leaves the other with a burning sense of vengeance and hurt. So the second sibling becomes obsessed with revenge, and any crime that he commits he believes is justified because it’s for a good cause.

The good sibling, who has a stronger commitment to morality, rises to oppose his brother. Hence, conflict arises and you have a story: you can see where the villain is coming from, how they’re motivated, what motivates them and why they’re motivated. You’ve suddenly made your villain much more down-to-earth.

Now, I used the example of siblings because that’s the example that is classically used for this trope. But something similar happens to Bane and Batman in The Dark Knight Rises: Bane endured great suffering in a deep pit, and caved to that pain to become evil. Batman undergoes the same kind of torture and physically pain, but he holds fast to his morality and emerges a hero.

Pose your villain as a fallen angel: someone who has failed a trial and in consequence has become what they are now. They did not rise to the occasion and become a hero: instead, they have become a monster. Then introduce the hero as someone who has been tempered with the fires of conflict only to emerge as someone who will protect the weak and innocent. This is where you have a robust good guy/bad guy relationship.

Never cease to remind us how the villain could have been the hero, and (to flip the equation) how the hero could have been the villain. This causes the reader to question what makes the hero a hero and what makes the villain a villain. Then it’s a matter of who’s rooting for who: we vote for the hero because he’s the good guy, and we have antipathy towards the villain because he does evil things. But never forget that a good villain could have been the hero.

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. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. 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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