Alright kids, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics in stories: villains. I absolutely love them.
But not just because they’re evil and give me plenty of inspiration for my world domination plans – I love their back-stories.
To me, there is something absolutely fascinating about learning why a person is moved to commit the crimes he or she does. What pushes them over the edge to do something they know should not be done? Why do it again and again, even after they have been caught once? As someone who pretty much always follows the rules, I can’t help but wonder what experiences, desires, and choices led to a person doing something wrong. (Because I never believe a person is just evil to be evil. Something made them that way.)
Of course, I feel like this whole villain back-story thing is quite hard to do, and isn’t always delivered like I’d want it to be. The two main examples that come to mind? The Young Elites and Maleficent. Both stories (a book and a movie) I went into with loads of excitement – YAY VILLAINS! But, unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed by both. It’s not that I thought either were horrible stories – I was intrigued by some of the characters and the magic in The Young Elite, and Maleficent was quite beautiful in its storytelling – but neither of them actually portrayed villains in my point of view. I don’t want to get too deep into why incase someone hasn’t read/watched either, but let’s just say neither really did things for the wrong reasons, in my opinion. (Further explanations in the spoiler tags!)
For me, my favorite villain back-stories are those that take a good person and ultimately break them through horrible experiences, lack of needs being met, wrong choices, etc. My two favorite examples of villains (or the two that came to mind while writing this post) are Walter White and Darth Vader. Walter White is, hands down, one of my favorite characters of all time. In Breaking Bad, he is this chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer and turns to cooking crystal meth in order to pay his bills and secure a future for his family. This show is perfect (if you haven’t seen it, I don’t think we can talk), because not only do you see White’s gradual transformation from this law-abiding classroom teacher to a law-breaking murderous meth cook, but you understand why he did it. His diagnosis, his low-paying job, his skills, his desires – he went down this path because he thought it was the best thing, and yet on the way he lost any morals he had and became this crazy, cold bastard because that’s what was needed to survive. (Seriously, it’s so good. I think I need a re-watch.)
And Darth Vader? Do I even have to talk about him? I know people hate on the newer Star Wars films because of Jar Jar Binks and whatnot, but I always really liked it. I really believed that Annikin would make the bad decisions that he did based on what he was going through, and that he would ultimately break. Love makes people do crazy things. (I actually do plan on re-watching the Star Wars movies though, just to see if it delivers as much as it does in my head still. :P)
In the end, it all comes down to this: These characters do bad things, and know that what they are doing is wrong in other’s eyes, but continue to do them because their life has brought them to that point. In their mind, their actions are justifiable. And that is why I love learning their stories.
Oh, but wait, there’s one more thing I want to talk about in regards to villains. One more reason I find them fascinating.
I feel like everyone has the potential to slip into being a villain. Especially in YA. Think about a lot of the YA stories we read – many have this sense of pre-determined heroic-ness. Like, it’s fate that certain characters are going to be good in life because of a prophecy, gift, etc. They’re destined to be heroes. And they often do. But what about those characters who aren’t fated for good things? What about those characters who are really negatively impacted by their missing or neglectful parents, who try so hard to succeed but constantly fail, who can only find friends within those that do bad things? Sure, many of those characters will turn out well like the rest of us, but surely as teenagers it’d be likely that some would make the wrong choice, that some would do things to meet needs they feel are missing, that some would think being bad is their only option… And while some would recover, others wouldn’t.
Of course, while I love villains and feel like they should be present in YA, I feel like I don’t see a whole lot. Or not a whole that are MCs. I asked bloggers for their favorite villains (see below) and many mentioned characters that weren’t the MC. I want to see the MC be a villain! While there are some pretty epic villains in YA books today (I love you Darkling!!), I hate that they’re getting relegated as this mysterious opposite force. Give me their story. Give me their Pov. Give me their evilness. That would make me one happy reader.