Register Monday | December 10 | 2018
No More Mr. Bad Guy

No More Mr. Bad Guy

Authors always treat evil as an incomprehensible, barely-human force waiting to be defeated—but that’s pure fiction. It’s high time we saw villains as people too.

Illustration by Michael Cho

Like any fiction writer, I work hard to get my characters right. Often this means trying to see things from their perspectives. Are they motivated by guilt, or a lie they half-believe? What I discover isn’t always pleasant. It’s worth doing, however, because it deprives me of straw targets. As a result, I never write about villains, because villains aren’t people.

True, no character in fiction is an actual person. Better explanation: villains are characters that don’t act like real people. They’re plot props. They live in fables, westerns and teen romps, where they exist to do one thing: thwart other characters. Cinderella has her evil stepmother, white-hatted cowboys have the black-hats, and the sweet gymnast in Bring It On has those bitchy girls with no underpants. As in any other writing, this sort of thing can be done poorly or ...

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