Sympathy for the Devil

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.


4 thoughts on “Sympathy for the Devil

  1. Love the idea of an antihero. I think of them as general antagonists in the story. They just aren’t, and for whatever reason can’t be, one of the good guys. One of my favorite antiheroes is the stylist from the Capitol in the Hunger Games. I can’t remember her name for the life of me, but she’s so shallow and self-absorbed without meaning to be. I thought Collins wrote her well. 😀

    1. Shauna Granger

      See, for me an antihero and an antagonist are two totally different things! An antagonist is just a villain to me, a huge threat to the hero, whereas the antihero is a conflicted character that is kind of a villain but has moments of being a hero – I think they are much more conflicted about who or what they are.

      1. Hmm, I suppose I think of an antagonist as anyone who stands in the protagonist’s way. Not necessarily in the way of his/her main goal in the story, but in the way of anything he/she wants to achieve. In the Hunger Games, the stylist often adds to Katniss’s frustration and feeling of being looked at as “less than” without even really meaning to. It’s subtle, but it’s there. 😀 I suppose it’s because I always look at the characters in relation to the protagonist: how does he or she affect him/her?

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