PART 1 / PART 2
The canary in the coal mine, or how moral declines.
A child’s heart
Do not kill, lie, steal, or poach another’s mate. Our innate moral code is an early source of guilt, if we go against it. In comparison, the validation of this behavior gives us a good feeling. Since cooperation is the key to survival, not only as a group, a society but as a species, this code is present in all of us. It’s not an exclusively human thing though. There are behavioral trials with dogs, rats, elephants, crows showing that helping another fellow specimen gives these animals euphoria, even if there’s nothing else to gain from this act. There is also evidence of altruism crossing the border of species. (Pics, or it didn’t happen? See here or here.)
For us, humans, and our made-up characters, social maturation depends on the bond between the young and their caregiver. As a personality emerges from the chaotic primordial ocean of fear, attachment, and ego, children learn to overcome their fears, they learn altruism, the pleasant feeling of not being alone, how to lie, how to feel empathy. Their social skills navigate them through everyday life, towards their goals.
Now you might ask yourself, if that’d be true, moral codes would be consistent, wouldn’t they? Of course. So, what changed? Simple answer: society. The caregiving structures, such as families, or communities are getting weaker and smaller. Isolation and poverty spread like an epidemic. Plus, events on a global rate affect small local societies, think of WW I and II, the Cold War, or other catastrophes due to forces of nature.
You’re an adult now.
Congrats! You are still afraid of the same old shadows in the dark, the same old spiders, snakes, ghosts or the unknown. You still need to overcome them on a daily basis, but you have now a lot more experience with coping. You transmute meaning, you forget, you neglect, you intellectualize.
Very good, you’re a functioning worker bee, with a guerilla subconscious, fat on your fears, wicked desires, and negative emotions. Your conscious mind keeps it in check, but not very good, I admit. But think deeper. Why won’t your subconscious leave you alone? Why regurgitate all your fears? Why does that falsetto keep intruding into your daily life? Why do you keep bumping into the same problems over and over?
This is a predetermined breaking point. Either on an intrinsic level or through events from the outside. There has to be a motive, or development to trigger what will happen next.
The notion of meaning and the rising of a tainted star.
In your story, as a writer, as a character, or generally as a human being, there comes a time, where you need to ask yourself: “Why do I keep doing this? What for? What’s the point?” The answers to these questions are the most important.
Finding your purpose in life, your ikigai sends you on a journey to become who you meant to be. If not, you are probably creating an antihero or a villain. The answer to their purpose in the life and the story is often only bitter laughter, defiance, and loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, these characters have a perfectly good reason to start their journey. Villains usually choose an extreme, but meaningful way to accomplish what they need to. They have their loved ones, they need to rescue or protect them. They need to make things right, or just better. Alas, their actions oppose the hero’s will and deeds, even if they aren’t evil.
Nothing but a broken man.
Just a few thoughts on how to turn a hero into a villain. With the words of Aaron Eckhart: “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to become a villain.”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, the writer has to single them out, and make them an example. Take away everything they love or care for, take away their reason to keep on. Now corrupt them, kill them with money and power. Grab some popcorn and sit back, watch the catastrophe unfold.
Maybe suppress that evil cackle. Example: Edmond Dantès (The Count of Monte Christo) and his revenge.
How far will they go to achieve their goal? “As far as it is necessary.” This answer is what separates the hero from the villain. They will give anything, they will sacrifice all they can (and trick other characters into sacrifice too) to get what they want/need.
If you have trouble finding a suitable villain, take your favorite hero and turn him/her evil.
The litmus test of society: data
What the society believes, in the end, is THE comfortable lie. You, as a writer, should count in, that you need a pliable way to present your point of view on things, without falsifying it. The easiest way to do it is world building.
Build a new society, with its own history and news. Actually, make any kind of media that presents, what society thinks of itself. In representation things that are important to them. This is how a government shapes a new unity, a new identity for its people.
Truth to be told, books and history are written by those who succeed over the opposition. The voices of the losers are cut out, their point of view on events fade out, their wisdom bleeds out, their motives and the suffering goes under, never (
okay, maybe a generation or so later) to surface again.
So make no mistake, people controlling media, news and any kind of information distribution service have the power to form the public opinion, to create new normalcy.
Gender of Evil
There is a difference between male and female villains. The stress responses, the utilization of their will, their way to kill, or to manipulate throughout the story gives you a lot of stereotypical anticipations. Females aren’t that strong, they use poison, they are better liars. If you follow crime statistics, you will know that females do as good as males at theft, embezzlement, and fraud. But if you look at arson, robbery, rape, homicide males lead.
I dare you not to follow the temptation and create an unusual bad guy/girl.
FEMALE villains: Maleficent, The Queen of Hearts, Jadis the White Witch, Snow White’s stepmother, Cinderella’s stepmother, the Wicked Witch of the West, Witch of the Wasteland, Lady Eboshi, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Ursula, Dolores Umbridge, Cruella de Vill, Mother Gothel, The Other Mother, Morgan la Fey, Agatha Trunchbull, Grendel’s mother, Juliette…
MALE villains: Roy Batty, Dr. Tyrell, all the Jokers, Syndrome, Loki, Emperor Palpatine, Sauron, Gaston, Scar, Dr. Facilier, Terminators, Cypher, Agent Smith, Hans Gruber, Long John Silver, He-who-must-not-be-Named, Hans Landa, Harry Lime, Norman Bates, Tajomaru, Koba, Magneto, Killmonger, Moriarty, and so many more.
Genderless Evil: forces of nature, outer space, time, supernatural or cursed objects (creepy dolls), haunted places like Overtoun Bridge, organizations like the Yakuza or the Mafia, global corporations – you get the idea.
A villain is a character in a story. He/she has a very specific job to do: namely to herd the hero towards the next best catastrophe and a reasonable character development and story arc.
A villain is an almost normal human being, with a purpose, and some experience with deception. He/she is accommodated to violence, the stress reactions might be a bit on the edge (insert some PTSD here). Maybe the villain was in the hero’s shoes and knows how things will turn out. Remember, the villain only has to oppose the hero, not the moral code. If you chose to let the villain do bad things, give the character power, start slowly. Use foreshadowing and shake the reader’s trust.
Give the villain good facets, a friendly demeanor, a family or good intentions. Make it easy for the reader to bond, to identify with the character. As he/she declines, stay in character, don’t jump down the cliff of crime and abomination. What I mean is this: a man who never lied, or took another man’s property, won’t suddenly take another human’s life. Make the character decisions plausible.
You don’t have to explain much, but show the pressing issues why the villain needs to do, what he does. (think Breaking Bad) Maybe those motives are noble, reasonable and even good, but lay a questionable red carpet under your villain’s feet. Maintain a power equilibrium between the opposing characters, match their abilities.