6 Tips for Creating an Antivillain

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6 Tips for Creating an Anti-villain

Anybody Can Write a Novel 2.0

Chapter 5 “Characters” – Section 3.2 “Anti-villains”

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Adrian Veidt:
I know I've struggled across the backs of murdered innocents to save humanity … but someone had to take the weight of that awful necessary crime [...]”
Jon Osterman:
[..] I understand, without condoning … or condemning.”
Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

The final character type in the circle of heroes, anti-heroes, and villains is the anti-villain. This is the antagonist who seeks to thwart the hero for ethical, selfless, or idealistic reasons; and in the process he/she ends up bringing overall pain and destruction to a good world or good characters. They don't seek their own personal advancement, but the advancement of an ideal or a cause when they commit acts of destruction. These character types serve for a more nuanced style of storytelling that rises above a black and white view of good and evil, which is becoming increasingly popular. As always, please note that I do not believe myself the sole definer or authority on archetypes or the definitions of writing terms. My tutorials are an attempt to create an internally consistent system of categorizing and utilizing as many writing elements as possible, in order for myself and others to more easily improve our writing.

Tip 1: Anti-villains come from humanization and respect.

My first draft of my first novel featured the sort of one-dimensional villain who twirled his mustache and did evil for the sake of evil. The problem was that nobody who read my manuscript was impressed with him. There was nothing wrong with him necessarily … he was just something generic to add to the story. Unsatisfied with that response, I took several drafts to reconstruct him into something that could be respected and empathized with. And the more I did, the better a response I got from my test readers. They were actually interested, as was I, and wanted to see him in more and more of the story. The more human and respectable I made him, the more he seemed to fit my story. And in the end, I inadvertently created and anti-villain who fit the role better than any villain could have. This isn't to say that you cannot design an anti-villain, only that one that naturally grows from an antagonist is one that you make human, real, and noble.

Tip 2: Anti-villains come from the necessity of the story.

An anti-villain will not necessarily the best or only sort of antagonist to use. In fact, it really just depends on your story, what type of antagonist you need. My story being completely based around nuances and the gray areas of morality, an anti-villain was the only thing that really made sense. This also means that an anti-villain doesn't really come from you just thinking that the idea of one is really cool. They come from the types of stories that need them, or those which are designed to harbor such an antagonist. And how can you tell what sort of story needs them? The only response I can give is that you should outline and draft using the antagonist type you think is best, get feedback, and perhaps alter the character or plot in order to come out with a formula that is most dynamic.

Tip 3: An anti-villain is a hero in their own right.

The popular trend for anti-villains is to make them masterminds who simply see the world in terms of the bigger picture. Usually, they are smarter than the hero, and their villainy comes from stepping on little people or compromising their ethics in order to achieve their ideal. While there is nothing wrong with this, it isn't necessary. Your anti-villain can be complex emotionally, while also being completely and utterly stupid or misguided. What sets them apart is not being right, wrong, or in any sort of particular mold. It is their heroic pursuit of a goal that is bigger than themselves, no matter how wrong they may or may not be. And despite the destruction that the anti-villain causes, your fair portrayal of their heroism will make the story that much more nuanced and complex.

Tip 4: Note the differences in having an anti-villain and a rival hero.

One of the potential problems of an anti-villain is that they may end up becoming just a rival hero. This is fine in its own way; but it will inevitably diminish the power of the final confrontation with the protagonist, and create a different sort of story. We see this in modern superhero stories, where the two heroes clash. There isn't enough momentum for two people with high ideals and such mutual respect to really combat one another, and so a surprise villain usually appears for them to fight together. An anti-villain needs to be strong, consistent, and destructive enough an antagonist to carry on to the final battle.

Tip 5: Consider the various options you have for your anti-villain.

Anti-villains range from delusional and misguided to being absolutely correct in what they are fighting for. They can murder a few innocents in order to save many, they can be noble and self-sacrificing in order to guide the hero to their destiny, or they can be more correct than the hero and only the antagonist because of the role they were cast in the story. Their ideals can be leading the world to a better place, or they can be confused and leading the world to its destruction. The anti-villain can be a victim of manipulation, of mental illness, or of desperation; or they can be no sort of victim at all. There are many types of anti-villains that you can create; so pick the one that best suits your story and do not feel confined to any archetype.

Tip 6: Consider the complications of using an anti-villain as the protagonist.

Any attempt that I can imagine of using an anti-villain as the protagonist would struggle from a similar problem; it would be easy for them to accidentally become the hero or anti-hero. So keep in mind the differences between the three roles if you attempt this feat. A hero's goals come from an idealistic desire, and only end in overall destruction and harm to good characters and a good world if the hero fails. The antihero's actions come from a place of selfishness or maliciousness, but bring aid to a good world and good character or harm to bad ones. To create an anti-villain protagonist, one would have to create a character whose successful actions, with noble intentions, brought overall harm to a good world and good characters.

Write-a-Novel Exercise 5.3.2

If you are creating an anti-villain character, write in a few sentences how (or if) you plan to use each tip in regards to designing your character.

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Wow.....Watching your analysis made me realise I created an antivillain protagonist who deconstructs the "He who fights monsters" archetype without even knowing....

Thank you for the help

DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
XxJake-SanxX's avatar

This helps me a lot, thank you.

DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar

Glad to hear it :)

Graeystone's avatar
Hrm. . .interesting. An extreme 'means justify the ends'. Reminds of me of some of the 'heroes' from Watchmen - Comedian, Rorschach, and Ozymadias. And you did the Watchmen quote. . .hrm again. . .am I leaning Chrysalis toward. . .uh. . .never mind that!
Doatie's avatar
I was doing a whole load of research during the past two days, and just yesterday, upon reading so many writing tips on DeviantArt (Yours included) I was debating if I should go along with making my 'villain' an anti-hero, since I believe it would enhance his character development a lot! I love creating stories and scenes where the readers can really sympathise and feel somewhat sympathetic to characters, because I feel like it creates a personal connection to the characters and story via their emotions.
So, reading your tips has really boosted my confidence and motivation, and I would like to thank you for that! I plan on writing it during the Summer holidays, and perhaps using it as a 'relaxation' method during college.

My only issues are the following:
* I have NO main character... I have my ally / allies all planned out, and how they fit / affect the story, I've planned my villain (Even though I plan on adding another villain who is 'more evil' further on in the story) but I have no official main character. I have some jumbled up ideas for them, but I haven't even decided on a gender yet, and not filling out that blank is really making me lose motivation.

*My plot is VERY weak. I've only really thought about the characters, and how they would interact with one another, hoping that I might think up some ideas to 'flesh' out the story, and then develop it, but none of my 'good/hero' characters have a clear motivation, at least one that would develop the storyline (Again, why I need a main character! )

Any sort of advice or guidance is appreciated, I acknowledge how now having a main character is not something you stumble across everyday   
RobertJEdwards's avatar
Great essay, gives me many ideas. Thanks!
Leopold002's avatar
As always, food for thought. Something to consider.
lovelymars908's avatar
I'm glad I finally got see a guide for antivillains. It's something i don't see talked about much.
DesdemonaDeBlake's avatar
I'm glad somebody sent me the suggestion. 
Aeolanyira's avatar
Too true. And that's a problem when they are your favourite type of villain to use 🤣
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