Write-it Wednesday #5 — Good Bad/Best Bad

29 Jun

Our heroes tend to get so much love that our bad guys can get overlooked. I’m trusting you all know that, and have done some character work on your antagonist(s). Let’s take it one step further.

One flaw that seems to plague villains these days is their “evil plans.” Many villain’s actions are dictated entirely or primarily by whatever will make them a hindrance to the hero. And on the one hand, yes, that’s critical. That’s what they’re there for: to create tension, present challenges, and raise the stakes.

At least, that’s what they’re their for structurally. This whole antagonist bit, that’s what the villain does for you, the writer.

But why are they doing what they do within the story?

Don’t get me wrong, you can have a great, beloved, interesting, dynamic villain with a shit plan:



Loki is something like 90% character, 10% effectiveness of plan. And he’s also the best MCU villain by a long shot.

But a good plan can go a long way in making your villain more interesting, and more of a threat.

(I had originally pulled this gif as a gag, but it’s actually a solid example). My personal favorite villains are ones like this:


He is connected to Mr. Incredible via backstory, and does harbor significant hatred toward him, but Syndrome’s plan isn’t only a vendetta against Bob Parr. It’s way bigger than that. He’s on a deeply personal quest in which he feels justified, and it’s only by happenstance (to the characters, carefully crafted narrative to the writers) that it’s Mr. Incredible and not one of the other surviving Supers who steps up to oppose him. On a craft level, these characters were carefully designed to mirror each other and all the things a hero/villain pair are supposed to do, but their antagonism feels more organic than someone waking up and deciding to be a super villain.

Full disclosure, I often dislike Vendetta/Revenge plots, because on the whole, I feel like they facilitate cheap villains who are only there to serve the story. Malekith in Thor: The Dark World comes to mind. To me it feels like, whatever the in-story explanations, he only woke up and the realms were only converging because they heard it was time for the sequel. While Alexander Pierce might not be your favorite villain, Hydra as a whole at least feels like they were always there, this was always their plan, and thank goodness Cap woke up in time to stop them.

We all have different preferences when it comes to antagonists, and different types of antagonists have different uses. Baron Zemo was a pretty by-the-books Vendetta Villain, but he sort of didn’t matter because he was more a linch pin than an antagonist. The tension, stakes, and opposition are provided by Tony and Steve. (For a more in-depth analysis, check out MovieBob’s review of Civil War).

Anyway, every story has its own structural, narrative, and emotional needs, and every writer has their own taste in villains. What we all need, though, it to understand how this is playing out in our work.

So, your assignment for this week is to catch your villain monologuing. This can be a voice test where they explain their evil plan, an actual scene where they confront the hero, bullet points listing all of the villain’s actions, when, and why, or really anything else. Determine if and how your hero and villain foil/oppose/balance each other. Figure out, and this is my favorite, how your villain’s plan/actions/motives would play out if your hero never showed up.

(Hey, this’ll work if you want to skip right to the prompt, right? If you’re not a fan of my monologuing, jump to the quotey part for the weekly prompt.)

As always, if you’d like to apply this thinking to an existing piece of media, go for it.

And post your results in the comments, or in a new post!!!!!




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