Villains: Why are we drawn to them?

Posted by: Bridgett.

Villains, those characters who make a novel, movie, or story more exciting. The monsters, madmen, marauders, and even mischief-makers who cause trouble for our heroes and send chills down our spines.

Power of the Dark Side coverAs film and literature fans, why do we love to hate them so much?

If you are a writer, do you ever wonder why their scenes are the most exciting to craft?

As humans, how often have we asked the question, “Why does God even allow evil to exist?”

At the 2014 Realm Makers writers’ conference, author L. B. Graham touched on these questions as well as other aspects of villainy, including how to address the realities of evil while still honoring God. 

One point is crucial, whether we write about evil, watch it portrayed on screen, or encounter it in life. Even those fighting evil are inevitably affected by it. No one, human or fictional character, can escape a brush with villainy unaltered.

Why, then, is evil so attractive?

We’ve all seen those screen villains who almost have the audience on their side. Perhaps he’s the charming, powerful, suave businessman who draws the audience in as his words entice the main character into danger. Maybe she’s the sultry femme fatale with the alluring voice who leads the hero down a slippery slope toward corruption, so beguiling the audience wants to follow.

Do writers find crafting villains’ scenes more fun because we somehow sympathize with the greatest villain of all, Satan?

Mr. Graham proposed that we may be attracted to evil, and to writing about villains, because we understand them better than we do the noble hero. Writing or relating to evil is easy because darkness is in each of us, only leashed. Often, villains and antiheroes do things which reflect urges we’ve felt, though we would never act on those impulses.

Writing or relating to nobility of character is hard, because evil can’t imagine or understand the mindset of a “good” that is better than itself. In Isaiah 55:9, God proclaims:

For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.

If that’s the case, we might ask, why allow evil to exist at all? Why not just eradicate it and save everyone a world of trouble?

That’s a question humanity has posed since the original villain first came onstage. There’s the matter of free will to consider. To be truly made in the image of God, we must have the power of choice. Without the presence of the “wrong” choice, there is no real freedom. That’s not the point of this post, however. I’ll leave that to wiser minds than mine.

Instead, I can say with certainty that villains perform two crucial functions in stories.

The role of the villain or monster is to give the hero a need that propels him toward glory. What would the hero do, after all, without an opposing force? He or she would remain in the ordinary world in which the story begins, unchanged and with no reason to stretch abilities, overcome flaws, or discover inner gifts never imagined. As the heroine of my first novel would put it:

“Consider a candle. Lighting it would serve no purpose, were there no darkness for it to brighten.”

L. B. Graham

L. B. Graham

The villain also defines the magnitude of the hero’s skills and character. A villain who seeks to simply break the hero physically can be defeated with brute force, requiring only a hero with the muscle or firepower to get the job done. However, defeating a villain who sets out to destroy others mentally or emotionally will require a hero to be cunning, show moral and emotional fortitude, and stand firm in her convictions. As L. B. Graham pointed out:

Imagine what Harry Potter would have been like if his villain had been Neville Longbottom instead of Lord Voldemort.

To avoid falling into the trap of glorifying the villains in our favorite stories, fans and writers must never lose sight of the true nature and consequences of evil.

At its core, evil is all about elevating the “self.” It leaves no room for God or anyone else. A villain may think she’s expanding her empire, stretching her influence until she rules the universe, but the true world of the villain is ever-shrinking. It spirals inward until it is no bigger than the villain herself.

Let’s be fair, evil is attractive. It is powerful, can be swathed in grandeur, but its true nature is a descent into the lowest form of life. Consider that most famous of villains, Satan. The grand archangel is, at heart, no more than a snake that spies on others.

Writers can depict evil’s attractive nature without glorifying it if we make clear the consequences of evil acts. We, even as fans, must never commend what God forbids. Even if the villain escapes to plague our hero in the next installment of a series, we must at least hint at the ramifications his actions will ultimately have on his life. If we keep this in mind, we may enjoy writing the villain without portraying evil as entertaining.

Above all, let us never buy into the deception that evil is a matter of perspective. Darkness is still dark, even if it’s disguised in shades of grey. Only the Light can overcome it.

Your turn to Shed Your Light below…

Why do you think we are drawn to villains?

Which villains of film or literature do you most love to hate? Why?

About the author:

Bridgett's promo2Bridgett Powers has defied the limitations of impaired vision and overcome a 21-year battle against chronic pain, all of which taught her a profound truth. God shines brightest through cracked lanterns.

Now, she shares that truth through her fantasy novels, picture book, and short stories. A member of ACFW and MyBookTherapy, she also serves as co-leader and writing coach for her writer’s group, operates a proofreading and editing service, and teaches writing workshops.

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About Bridgett

fantasy novelist ~ picture book and short story author ~ freelance editor ~ writing coach

Shed Your Light

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