Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

Some stories call for villains. Heroes and heroines need to test themselves against opposition of some sort. Sometimes the opposition can be a hero's own limitations, the forces of nature, or constraints of time and circumstance. But more interesting conflicts arise when the opposition pits our heroes against human wit and cunning. Some stories need villains, but I don't believe any one is born as a villain. The villains in my stories tend to be people consumed by what would be ordinary human drives in the rest of us.

Most people want control in our lives, the power to shape our own destinies; most of us feel the urge to lash out when we're hurt or when our needs go unmet while others prosper; it's perfectly natural to want a successful career and the rewards and recognition that go along with one. These urges and impulses are not what make a villain. People become villains when they forget every other value, regardless of who gets hurt, in order to fulfill the urges for power or vengeance or gain.

The villains are people who have lost perspective on their own lives. In 'Sweet Mercy' the villain was a man who suffered the loss of his job, his wife and his home and blamed others for that loss. Decent people suffer such losses all the time and deserve our sympathy. I've been through bankruptcy and foreclose myself. I've lost people most dear to me. Decent people find ways to cope; we mourn our losses, but we cling to the good things that remain to us: friends, community, family & health, our interests in any of the myriad facets of this vast and fascinating world.

Villains are the ones who lose perspective on their own suffering, let it become the whole focus of life, and the excuse for whatever acts they think may alleviate their pain or emptiness, including lashing out at anyone they hold responsible.

I don't believe anyone is born a villain, and I tend to believe that most villains have the potential for redemption, that it's possible for them to come to recognize the limitations in their own perceptions.

A villain can come to recognize that each of us is more than any one drive or motivation. If human beings crave the power to control our own destinies, we also crave the comforts of fellowship and the security of mutual reliance. If we fear mortality, we also have the capacity to transcend fear, to become sources of compassion and comfort to our own fears and to those of others, to embrace the personal, but move beyond it to fulfill goals in a grander scheme.

Wonder Guy: June 3
A villain is a person who believes the lie that limits his or her conception of self to some small and petty corner of the human soul. The truth is that the human soul is as vast and complex as this whole world: containing everything from gardens to deserts, jungles to cities, bedrooms to kitchen sinks, and oceans to heavens above -- and that we all have more potential than any one corner of a soul can hold.

Sometimes stories need villains, and sometimes they just need characters as complex as we are.

There's more than one villain playing a role in 'Wonder Guy' - my second full-length novel, scheduled for release on June 3.


Big Mike said...

Well stated. I'm often struck by real life bad guys and girls that have lost sight that others have emotions, pain, suffering and that their action amplifies that darkness. Especially today's politicians that enact courses of action that hurt so many of us. Kind of like the villain in Crime and Punishment that sensed he was the only one with rights, with desires. Everyone else was but a pawn in his world.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Andrii said...

I think your article made a lot of sense. I have to agree with you: a villain is someone who projects his pain and grief onto others.

In this regard, Rodion Raskolnikov shouldn't necessary be seen as a villain, but a fool who thought he could "outplay" God.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

A good 3-D look at villians.

Naomi Stone said...

Thanks. I'm afraid I don't have to look far for inspiration for my villains...