Humanize your Villains

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Rudy Dees

Writer @ GoneWithTheWord

You cannot have a story that does not have heroes and villains. Otherwise, you don’t have a story. You need bad guys to create conflict and you need good guys to reduce the conflict and bring the plot to a final resolution.

Or do you?

Warner doesn’t seem to think so.

Suicide Squad is a story about dangerous convicted supervillains who are forced to work together for the greater good. The government assembles a team of the worst criminals by either promising shorter prison sentences and by the threat of death to complete covert and sometimes heinous tasks. Something a supervillain should enjoy. There are no good guys, only a group of bad guys working together in the interests of the government.

How do you move the plot forward with only villains? Two ways: 

Humanize them. Write their backstory: their childhood, their mentors, persons of influence, traumatic events, chemical or hormonal imbalances, abuse and all the coping mechanisms that led them first to survive, and then to thrive as villains. Then, show how the villain struggles to make the best decision from her point of view. By humanizing your villains readers will empathize with them and their actions.

Create a hierarchy. Not all evil is created equal. Someone who steals a car is not the same as a mass murderer. By creating empathy for the supervillains and humanizing their stories, a bigger villain is revealed: the government. So it isn’t about good versus bad, as much as it is bad versus bigger bad.

Some say that Warner is taking a cinematic risk by releasing a film about villains. Do you think they are? 

Even filmmakers of children’s movies are not immune to the idea of various shades of villains. Minions anyone? All through that movie, my four-year-old son asked me: “Is he a bad guy?” Each time I had to answer yes. Then I had to try and explain who the good guys were.

Whether your story is about heroes and villains, or simply villains, humanize your characters and create a pecking order of evil. This will help your audience empathize with the decisions that are made and actions that are taken. 



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