Seeing Myself in my Villains: An Author’s Nightmare???

This kind of picture always makes me think of Laskenay. She hates conflict, but when her values are threatened, she WILL defend them.

This kind of picture always makes me think of Laskenay. She hates conflict, but when her values are threatened, she WILL defend them.

Today’s post is appropriate, I think, coming from a fantasy author. Sci-fi authors and some writers of historical fiction could also relate to a post about crafting villains, but really, we all write characters we don’t like, no matter what our genre.

That’s the role of the antagonist, after all. He’s there to oppose the hero, whom we generally are supposed to like. Ergo, we DON’T like the “villains.” At least, not usually.

And yet, we authors see ourselves reflected in our villains. At least, I see myself in the villains I’ve written. And that’s the topic of this post.

Villains come in all shapes and sizes: the “bogeyman” baddie, the antihero… the list goes on and on. But most authors, I would wager, see something of themselves reflected in their villains.

For me, this usually comes out of nowhere. I realize it during a read-through, some point after I’ve written a first draft. I don’t intentionally inject myself into my villains, (or at least, not intentionally to the extent that they end up reflecting me.) There are so many ways our villains can reflect who we are.

  • We use a good quality about ourselves to humanize the villain, or we give the villain a sympathetic struggle that we can relate to.
  • Maybe the villain shares one or two of our major strengths, but uses them in very different ways, for different goals than we would have. This is very common!
  • The flaws we know we have–tendencies to selfishness, or anger, to self pity–are present in our villain. They may be blown up to a different size than they exist in us, but they’re there. And we KNOW they come from us.
  • The things we most fear, we throw into our villains. That makes them formidable foes in our minds, a force to be reckoned with.
  • Maybe a vice in someone else, a vice whose bite we’ve felt personally, makes an appearance. In this case, it’s not our flaws the villain reflects, but our suffering.

It’s really crazy to reflect on this…. Think of the character you’ve written that you most dislike. The one you really, really hate. I bet that, to some extent, the reason is that the character embodies a part of you that you’d rather not admit to.

It’s crazy how this happens. Even the ONE villain I’ve written who has pretty much zero redeemable qualities, who is pretty much a psychopath, reflects me to some extent.

I’ve realized this as I edit “The King’s Sons” for its second edition. (Still hoping to get those new versions of the Herezoth Trilogy out this summer!) Evant Linstrom may be pitiless and awful, but the reason he’s doing what he’s doing? He’s got a legitimate grudge against the establishment, and he’s let it gnaw at his heart. He utterly gave in to the demon of self-pity and self-indulgence. And self-pity is something I struggle with. It’s one of the biggest things I know I hate about myself.

Now, I didn’t give Linstrom that legitimate grudge and streak of self-pity turned to a thirst for vengeance because I indulge a bit too much in self-pity. I did it because I wanted to round out the GOOD guys. I didn’t want my good guys being unrealistically perfect, unrealistically innocent. So I found a way to insert a legitimate slight against Linstrom in the past, and…. there you go.

Our brains are sneaky like this. This is why writing works as therapy sometimes! We don’t realize we’re doing it, but writing fiction truly is therapy. ALL our characters are bits of us, and through them we work out personal issues. I really think that, subconsciously, a large part of creating Linstrom and his saga was to give myself a concrete image of the dangers of a vice I know I have, to help me resist falling into that trap.

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8 responses to “Seeing Myself in my Villains: An Author’s Nightmare???

  1. That does get scary when you have a villain that is a pure monster. I have one of those and wonder if he’s composed of what I hate instead of real aspects of myself. Just a horrible, despicable creature that makes the world a darker place simply by existing. Yeah, I kind of hate this one character.

    • I think a lot of us who write science fiction and fantasy feel that way about at least one of our characters 🙂 Goes with the genre! Like you say, it’s more about the things we personally hate that we see in them, rather than necessarily true aspects of who we are or traits we exemplify

      • Good point on it being a fantasy/sci-fi thing. Those genres do tend to have larger than life, over the top villains. More reality-based stories tend to have more down to earth baddies.

  2. I’m quite concerned that I’m actually starting to like my main antagonist! Undeniably he’s done some truly terrible things and has grown quite cold and indifferent, developing an almost surgical approach… but he also believes in his heart that he’s working towards a very real and important goal. In trying to round off his character and add a sympathetic element I’ve grown to like him. Perhaps I know too much; the reader won’t know the whole story so soon of course. Or maybe I see too much of me in his struggles and want to believe so badly that he’s essentially good.

    You make a brilliant and quite terrifying observation, Victoria!

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who has a soft spot for some my villains! The villain in the first book of my trilogy, I really like. I really find him intriguing and as you say, I’ve added sympathetic elements. He has a real capacity to love that is fascinating to see as it coexists with a lot of capacity to hurt. He truly believes he is doing something good, something needed. He is supporting a good cause in a very bad way….

  3. Oops, I wanted to thumbs up your last reply but fat fingers!

    I really liked this post. I’d like to believe that we all have a capacity to relate to our antagonists. My main bad character at the moment, I kinda have sympathy for. They do things that cannot be forgotten and/or forgiven, yes, but it still can be easy to understand them at times. Same goes for the books I love to read. I’ve met many an antagonist that I sympathized with. But then again, I enjoy it more this way.

  4. Interesting premise, my villains always seem to either be pure evil bent on destroying everything or brainwashed/genetically manipulated to do evil… I don’t even want to think what that might say about myself!
    I’ll have to look closer during editing, maybe there’s something I just haven’t seen yet.

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