We love to hate things. The mouth breather sitting next to us, the woman with perfect fashion sense. The weather. We love to have an enemy that we can all boo at and cheer for when the good guy defeats him. At least, that's what it used to be like. But today people are smart. People are deeper. They realize that perhaps, perhaps the Bad Guy might not be so....bad. How did this happen? It's because of writers. Whether for novels, TV, or movies, writers are showing that people are people. Bad Guys aren't always bad, and Good Guys aren't always good.
So how do you write a Bad Guy and make people sympathize with him but still hate him so that the Good Guy can defeat him and you still feel glad he/she was defeated? It's easy! No really!
Once upon a time I came across a wonderful saying whilst taking a psychology class: Crazy People Don't Know They're Crazy.
See here's the thing, bad guys (whether they're actually crazy or not) do everything for a reason that they believe is RIGHT. What they are doing is correct. S'mial is killing of an entire species of people on his planet Krylon because they've taken over too much land and have rude manners and don't respect nature. Perfectly logical right? Because talking to them would do no good. Plus I mean, he has a death ray. So you know...gotta use it since you can't return it.
Normally when you read comics or watch movies (at least older ones) you get a basic "the bad guy wants to take over the world/enslave the human race" spiel. But what they didn't have, or what wasn't seen, was the villains back story. Maybe the human race wiped out his whole planet and he was all that was left. I'd be pretty pissed, wouldn't you? You sympathize with him for his planet, but him murdering a bunch of children in retaliation isn't something you root for.
Readers today want back story on the villains. They want to know why and how they became bad. Because somewhere deep inside us, we have an inner Bad Guy. We don't let them out because we know it's wrong, but it's there, hidden from others. And because of that, if given the opportunity, we can sympathize on occasion with the reasoning of why a Bad Guy does what he does, though we don't sympathize with HOW he chooses to carry out his plans. Usually because they're over the top.
I think this movement is really well defined by Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog (with Neil Patrick Harris and Nathan Fillion). The whole story is about how Doctor Horrible (Harris) wants to become a Bad Guy but is a little too 'good', and how certain events create him to be the most horrible bad guy in all of time. But you sympathize with him because you see his pain and struggle BEFORE he became the best worst villain ever. You see HIM. But you still don't like what did because he went too far.
Sometimes they need no dark or tortured past. Sometimes they're just crazy. They want to rule the world because well....they want to. Because they can. Because in their minds they can make the world a better place to live in, for them. The world isn't how it should be, they can make it better. Whatever better is to them.
To write a compelling Bad Guy you have to see the world through their point of view. They're not crazy. They're being perfectly logical in their minds. So a quick recap on how to make a good villain:
1) Crazy people don't know they're crazy: When writing your Bad Guy remember that to them what they're doing is for the good of something--even if its for themselves. They don't realize that the decision to Mass Murder a whole species is wrong. They think that's a perfectly valid solution.
2) Back story, Back story, BACK STORY: Remember, even Bad Guys were kids once. They weren't just born 45 and evil. What made them become evil? People want to know now a-days!
3) Good isn't always Good: I didn't quite cover this, but this is important. Good Guys are not always good. They make mistakes, stress gets to them, the only person they loved dies. They can become evil. It's a slippery slope, especially when you have the whole world relying on you and the one good thing in your life is taken away. Anger and grief are good motivators for people to become villains.
So there you have it! How do you guys write your villains? Do you find it hard to relate to them and their reasons to do what they do, or is it all too easy to understand why they do what they do? Do you blur the lines, or is there only Good and Bad in your book? What makes a good Villain? I'd love to hear your thoughts!