I’m not sure if it is possible to have a story without a villain. Now, I’m not suggesting that we have to have some evil mastermind always working to thwart our hero/heroine. But there is always someone in the story that at the very least trips them up, shifts their focus or just acts to veer our hero off the right track.
In my books I often have more than one villain at work. Sometimes they are the evil mastermind, driven by demons in their past (or sometime actual demons!) that the main characters have to battle. And I love my villains, I really do. I try very hard to make my villains as human as possible so that you’re always hoping they’re gonna see the light by the end of the book and come around to the right side. Because we all know that there is no black and white in life and in right and wrong. Whatever is driving a villain is often some human flaw and we all have flaws, which I think is why we sometimes fall for the villain.
But I also have a lot of characters that I like to refer to as the antiheroes. They aren’t villains really and they aren’t trying to rip someone’s world apart, but they have issues and sometimes they just can’t deal with those issues in a proper, healthy way. Antiheroes are essential to a story. In my second book, Air, this is the character of Jeremy. Jeremy could be, should be a sweet, helpful boy. Jeremy should have a girlfriend and guys he hangs out with on the weekends. Jeremy should be getting better grades. Jeremy should be so many things. But Jeremy is not the one thing that his father wants him to be: Jeremy is not his brother.
Abuse and neglect have altered Jeremy, making him choose a darker path. When we meet Jeremy we just assume he’s a bad a guy, he’s got some dastardly plans in store for our main characters. But as the story goes on we realize he isn’t a villain, just an antihero. He’s someone who needed help, he is every bit as much a victim as the people he hurts.
It’s a strange idea that writers often ask us to feel sympathy for villains or antiheroes, but oftentimes that’s who we should feel bad for. We should wonder why they are the way they are. Who hurt these people? Who let them down?
My favorite antihero will always be Severus Snape in the Harry Potter series – I was always rooting for him and always had faith in him that he wasn’t actually a bad guy, just an antihero.