One of the standard tips for writing villains is that they should see themselves as the hero. In their eyes, what they’re doing is justified, it’s the protagonist who’s in the wrong. Even supervillains wouldn’t call themselves villains in real life, or call their organization the Masters of Evil, Villainy Incorporated, the Sinister Six, etc.
I think I disagree. The villain will usually think he’s the protagonist in the story, but not the hero.
To put some context on this, I’ve been thinking that someone in the online misogynist mode would be good as the villain in the reworked Impossible Takes a Little Longer. After all my protagonist is a superpowered woman, a superhero who protects others; pitting her against a man who despises women makes sense, and it certainly fits the current environment.
Trouble is, I’m not sure I could pull it off . The kind of misogyny critiqued at We Hunted the Mammoth includes, for example, the guy who assumes a woman wearing ripped clothes wants to be raped. Things go downhill from there. Like sobbing Nazi Chris Cantwell, it’s hard to make anyone that vile believable (though I’ll probably try).
And then I began thinking about “the villain sees themselves as a hero.” Because “hero” implies a lot more than protagonist. It has connotations that you’re good, working for the side of good, that you’re active. And no, I don’t think all villains think that way.
For one thing, some people don’t really the world in terms of good and evil. It’s a matter of kill or be killed, dog eat dog. The world is full of sharks, and the only way to survive is to be the biggest shark in the ocean. People like that don’t see themselves as the good guy, they see themselves as the smart guy. They’re the protagonist, but at best they’re an antihero. In D&D I imagine they’d put themselves as neutral alignment, and probably imagine most people are the same.
The Joker, when he’s written sane, seems to see himself less as a hero and more as a star. Crime, mayhem and murder, well-executed, put the spotlight on him, and that’s where he wants it.
While men’s rights activists and other male supremacists believe they’re on the side of good (i.e., patriarchy), I’m not sure they see themselves as heroes. A lot of them see themselves as victims, pushed down by the feminist conspiracy, by the power of hot women to drive them crazy, by the political correctness that won’t let them speak up (of course they’re perfectly free to speak up, it’s just they get smacked down). The hero of the story fights, these guys skulk and mutter on the Internet. I’m pretty sure when they do lash out with doxing or online threats, they don’t feel heroic. And seriously, can you imagine trying to write someone who thinks online death threats are heroic? Like I said, wouldn’t be easy.
Another possibility is a villain who does see themselves as the hero but they’re lying to themselves. Human beings are good at that. Like the family values conservatives caught having affairs and getting their mistresses abortions, or the right-t0-life women who get abortions. I doubt they see themselves as heroic, they just see themselves as justified, in a way nobody else getting an abortion or having an affair is. One writer in Cosmopolitan years ago said every person she’d interviewed for an article on infidelity believed their affair was rational, justifiable and healthy for the marriage. None of them thought this applied if their spouse had affairs.
Some villains undoubtedly see themselves as the heroes. But definitely not all.
#SFWApro. Cover by Dick Giordano, all rights to current holder.