All Good* Things Come in Threes

‘Villains are just the heroes of their own stories,’ saith 19, 783 pins on Pinterest, pinned lovingly to novel WIP boards.

To that phrase I say — get thee to a nunnery. Or a villainy school. Somewhere with lessons in Evil or Badness in general. It’s a current trend, particularly in the Young Adult genre, to write villains who – well, aren’t really all that bad. Maybe they weren’t given enough cookies as a child. Maybe their father said something emasculating when they were thirteen. Maybe they’re fighting for Their Version of Good *clenches fist* and they don’t really mean to be a Villain.

Move over, wishy-washy Young Adult villain. There are more impressive villains around, and I will introduce them to you. Maybe then you can spread your wings and write some true badness instead of Victim Villains. (Which are a legitimate type of villain and will be discussed, but which also need a time out because they’ve been getting way too much attention lately and other villains deserve a turn.)

VILLAIN #1: The Supervillain

He doesn’t need to wear a cape or inhabit a comic-book universe. There’s only one real requirement for the Supervillain – he needs to be bad. We’re talking ‘destroy a city Just Because’ or ‘kill the heroine’s boyfriend with fire because revenge is sweet.’

Well, maybe they don’t need to be quite that dramatic, but you get the idea. There’s no Casper Milktoastiness to this brand of villain. This villain has no delusions about being ‘the hero of his own story.’ This villain knows exactly how bad he is, and he likes it that way. He’s not sorry about it, he’s not the result of ‘misunderstandings,’ he’s not ‘misguided.’ He’s evil, his middle name is misery, and he wouldn’t want it any other way.

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This doesn’t mean they can’t be three-dimensional characters – they can be. Most of my Big Bads are of the Supervillain variety – fully aware of their choices, fully willing to make the bad ones because they’re #powerhungry or #sadistic or #fueledbyrevenge. This villain is classic, and we don’t see enough of him these days, if you ask me. And if you don’t ask me, it doesn’t matter; I’m still correct.

VILLAIN #2: THE LUNATIC

Lunatics are wonderful because they basically come with built-in three-dimensionality. (A dose of crazy does wonders as far as fiction is concerned.) Lunatics don’t need to be stark raving mad or full of maniacal laughter. Maybe they’re just unstable – but just unstable enough to cause a slew of problems.

My favorite example of the Lunatic villain is Sebastian Monroe (Revolution). While he doesn’t remain a villain (courtesy of a frankly glorious character arc) the time he spends as a Lunatic Villain wreaks some serious havoc. It’s poignant havoc, as well – we get to see his development – he goes from the guy who is stunned when his best friend shoots two murderers to the dictator who slaughters rebels and heads up a totalitarian Militia.

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We see his foundations shake, we watch as he becomes more and more unstable, and we see what he becomes as his mental health breaks down and his moral compass spins without direction. This isn’t who he was, and arguably is not who he is (he does eventually find True North again. Er, True North-ish. True Northwest), but he’s a zealous mistake-maker, and he makes plenty. Still, no matter how much he grows and changes, he’ll never be able to shake the fact he deliberately killed thousands of people.

He’s my favorite.

VILLAIN #3: The Victim

ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT. ALL RIGHT. Yes, the Victim is a legitimate type of villain. He’s just really, really overused is all. But I promised we’d talk about him. I say ‘him’ because there’s a prime example floating around waiting to be discussed. I’ll give you some hints.

• adopted

• jealousy issues

• is both very stupid and very clever

• extremely childish

• looks suspiciously like Tom Hiddleston

YOU GUESSED IT – Loki is the current Trendy Villain Type. (Don’t take this to mean I don’t appreciate Loki. I do appreciate Loki. I particularly appreciate the way he rocks two knives in the new Thor: Ragnarok trailer. You know what I’m talking about.)

Now, does Loki have legitimate grievances? You bet he does. He has an entire list of Things that Happened To Him – his true family abandoned him, he was adopted, he didn’t find out he was adopted until he was….a few thousand years old, etc. So naturally he decided to try and take control of earth, kill whomever he pleased, and put his pettiness on a Grand Stage. (Is he hilarious? Yes. Does he do a Good Thing in saving Jane’s life that one time? Also yes. Does that make him a good person? Nah.)

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Seem a little extreme? That’s because it is. It’s not like Loki can’t undergo a redemption arc (or at least some character development), but this isn’t about his potential future. This is the Loki we already know – the one who took every disappointment and/or odd circumstance in his life, blew them out of proportion, and lashed out like a petulant child. Do we sympathize with him? Sure – he had a rough go of it, even by Asgardian standards. Does this in any way nullify his galactic temper-tantrum? Nah. The dude excels at making mountains out of molehills, then attempting to demolish those mountains with the sheer force of his Hurt Feelings.

(I swear I like Loki as a character, I really do.) Hear me out, though – my problem isn’t with the idea of the Victim in and of itself. My problem is with the YA authors (and reader) who romanticize the ‘poor babies’ and jump through hoops attempting to justify the Victim’s behavior – when in reality, the Victim had hurt feelings, lashed out, and probably killed people doing it. …Stop coddling that. That needs a spanking. And jail time.

So there you have it; the three major types of villains (or villainesses, if you like – we really do need more Lady Lunatic villains. I want more of those. Will we get some in Thor: Ragnarok? Will this movie cure my bad skin and align the planets? IT SURE LOOKS LIKE IT).

Who are YOUR favorite (or least-favorite) villains? Do you have a pet villain peeve? Let me know in the comment below!

*it’s a relative word, okay

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16 thoughts on “All Good* Things Come in Threes

  1. While I appreciate villain redemption, there have been times while I am watching an Asian drama that I beg the screen to please just let me hate the villain for once and not make me feel sorry for him.

    On the other hand, I hate when they go to the other extreme of making a villain so evil that no one would work for him. If he shoots every bounty-hunter, every minion, every everything, then no one is going to want to be within a 10-mile radius of him. It’s stupid.

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    1. I can name a bunch of kdramas with legitimately nasty villains, if you’d llke. XD Also, I completely agree – a Supervillain just comes across as stupid if he does more damage to his side than the Heroes.

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      1. lol – kdramas know how to make some seriously nasty villains (I Can Hear Your Voice had more than one!). Twdramas are the ones that tend to get to me – the rom/coms always want everyone to be friends by the end.

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  2. Excellent breakdown — thanks!

    I think the Victim kind of villain is so popular right now because people decided that the villains-for-the-sake-of-villainy (a.k.a. supervillains) and lunatic villains just didn’t have enough motivation for their villainy, and so people made a new “rule” of writing that villains have to be “the heroes of their own stories” and all relatable and junk. Which, btw, I don’t like. But it seems to be the new “rule.”

    So I’m actually super pleased (and surprised) to see you talking about the Supervillain kind and the Lunatic kind as villains we need more of. I like having villains who are just… y’know… BAD, and know it, and like you said, wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve heard SO MUCH about how this is now an unacceptable form of villain (because of said new “rule” and said pinterest pictures) that I thought it was the new norm to not have these. YAY FOR GOING BACK TO GOOD OL’ EVIL VILLAINS. And lunatics. They’re fun too. XD

    I haven’t seen Revolution, but this –> “True Northwest” made me laugh. XDD

    I must see this now-legendary Thor: Ragnarok trailer…

    I TOTALLY AGREE about the coddling-the-hurt-victimized-villain thing. Like. What. I’m tired of this. O.o

    Anyways, thanks for this post!

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  3. 1) good to have your blog back, luv. You have been missed.
    2) I CANNOT BEGIN TO EXPRESS TO YOU HOW MUCH I NEEDED THIS LIKE TODAY FOR WRITING ALL THE THINGS.

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  4. I just…really like villains.
    Okay, let me phrase that better: I really appreciate villains. Good (err, well-written) villains can really make a story. And supervillains and lunatics are my favorite kinds (although I have seen the latter done badly, aka those mysteries where the least likely suspect committed the crime for no reason other than surprise! they’re insane, even though we were never given any clue that they might be mentally unstable before hand but no, I’m not bitter.) And when done well, redemption arcs are absolutely AMAZING.

    I do love Loki as a character. The fangirls that excuse every murder and bad decision he’s committed, though, are another story.

    Thor: Ragnarok looks fab. I cannot wait.

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  5. I think my favorite kind of villain is the one who does legitimately think he’s doing the right thing, because that’s the most realistic and frightening villain of all — because he or she might be you or me.

    Some examples would be the cardinal from The Musketeers TV show (he excuses his evil, amoral actions because he is protecting France, and all of those actions achieve some tangible goal he is working towards) and Frollo from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who in all his pious hypocrisy is convinced Paris will be better off if he commits genocide.

    I don’t mind villain victim if it’s done right; it can add nuance and depth, but if it becomes a case of excusing the villain’s immoral actions because he’s had a hard life, nah, I don’t go for that. You make your own choices. I make mine. A villain must own up to his, and not blame it on bad parenting.

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    1. I’m discussing Ideological Villains in the second part of this Villain discussion, in fact. ‘A villain must own up to his, and not blame it on bad parenting.’ Well said.

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  6. Reading this gave me such a great boost of confidence with my own story! My villain is a woman who isn’t mentally stable and tends to lash out and I had spent COUNTLESS hours worrying if I was doing it right, if she was the right type of villain, if she was good (well written, I mean) and now I feel like I can take a deep breath and relax, even slightly.

    Thank you, Mirriam, for this wonderful post!

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  7. Did you know that Loki is (in Asgardian terms) still basically a teen? Someone did the math and found that he is the same as a 17 year old boy. So, he’s in his “rebellious” stage. I found this really funny for some reason. ;)

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