We might not want them in our lives, but our worlds wouldn’t be complete without their adversaries. Challenge forces change, and change is growth. Without growth, there is entropy. And entropy is boring.
But for most of us, the last thing we want to invite into our lives is conflict with toxic people. And if we don’t want those people in our lives, why and how could we rent out space in our brains for those people to live? Yet without them, our worlds and characters will stagnate.
The Right Kind of Mr. Wrong
Our villains can’t be just any random evil people, though. Their job–and they do have one–is to force the characters into growth. But a character that needs to grow in his courage doesn’t get much growth out of a villain whose strong points force the hero to out-think him. He needs a villain whose strong points force him to stand up against adversity.
Keepin’ It Real In The Mirror
Villains, as much as your heroes, must also be just as real and honest as your other principal characters. We all are ready to admit that yeah, our heroes are a little bit of us given form and independence. But our villains? Villains can express our darker sides, our impulse-control issues, our paranoia and all those negative parts of us…but only if we’re willing to magnify them, and only if we’re willing to prevent our better natures to mitigate those darker impulses that do not drive us, but can drive our villains.
Looking Outside Yourself
But not all of our villains’ parts need to come from our own selves. As much evil as you might have inside you, you’re still just one person–there are so very many different forms and expressions of villainy that it’s worth your time to cast further afield. The most effective adversaries are the ones that broadside you from out of nowhere. Our Hero can expect and defend against another soldier, but he’s ill-equipped to defend against the femme fatale spy.
The keenest conflicts between adversaries–and even those who aren’t in traditional “villain” roles–are the ones where neither side responds to the other’s stimulus in the expected way. The adversary, by nature, holds differing or opposing values than the protagonist. The stimulus-response is going to be a different set of actions and words and feelings. And the goal is not to come to consensus. Your adversaries are not going to be mutually agreeable to getting along.
Villains are a key part of your world that keeps it in motion. They help grow and change your protagonists and drive the plots to your stories, and sometimes hold an uncomfortable mirror up to your readers and yourself.