Previous entries of Xlibris Writing Tips provided suggestions for writing and understanding antiheroes. In this entry, Xlibris Publishing explores the opposite, the Anti-Villain.
Usually playing the role of antagonist, the anti-villain does not fit the usual mold for a villain. Whether it is through actions, goals, or even demeanor, the anti-villain subverts expectations readers have for an antagonist. Anti-villains can range from the highly sympathetic, possibly even a hero in their own right were it not for a story’s perspective, to very human and relatable even if the logic or methods they implement are horrifying.
Similar to the antihero, the anti-villain is defined by motives, methods, and qualities that differentiate them from predominant cultural definitions of ‘villains’ and ‘antagonists.’
Anti-villains tend to have motives that range from the sympathetic to the completely justified. Say the antagonist is driven by revenge, such as by the loss of a loved one, the pain and the rage they feel can resonate deeply with readers. Perhaps the anti-villain is completely convinced their actions, no matter how heinous, are absolutely necessary to ‘save the world.’ There are also scenarios where the anti-villain is antagonistic primarily or solely due to being from a country the protagonist is opposing.
Although sometimes, an antagonist can be ‘technically’ in the right, the extremes they go for that motive can make them into the antagonist. Few embody this concept better than the character of Javert of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Javert is a Police Inspector, an officer of the law. His fanatical adherence and upholding of the law allows for no moral grey areas- one is either a good man or a criminal. This mindset puts Javert at odds with Jean Valjean, a former convict and thief who chose to turn his life around and become a truly virtuous, morally upright man. Because Valjean broke the law long ago, no matter all the good he’s done or the lives he’s saved, in Javert’s eyes Valjean is still a criminal, still evil, and thus he needs to be apprehended.
Anti-villains typically employ methods normally associated with traditionally heroic characters. Anti-villains, especially those who acting as law enforcement, can be very law-abiding and thus further differentiate them from criminal protagonists. Or in cases where the antagonist opposes the protagonist purely due to them being on opposite sides of an international war or conflict. In such cases, the antagonist may be no better or worse than the protagonist in the lengths they will go for their nation or government. If an antagonist is part of an invading army, they can still comport themselves honorably and bravely while possibly even disagreeing with the invasion itself but at the same time being a loyal soldier.
Alternatively, an anti-villain may still carry out plans and actions that malignant in result even if the intention is relatively benign. Even then an anti-villain might be genuinely regretful at the less of life resultant of their actions and conduct themselves in an honorable and respectful manner. Some anti-villains may refuse to implement underhanded methods within context.
Anti-villains as antagonists tend to have qualities normally attributed to more heroic characters. These qualities can include honor, respect, a certain self-awareness, perhaps even capable of love. Having such qualities can further humanize an antagonist to make them more relatable to readers.
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