I grew up on comic books. Good guys fighting evil bad guys! The Heroes win. The Villains are foiled! The good guys are good, and the bad guys are very very bad.
Wow, if only life were that simple.
But if you are writing a play, or a novel, and it has a realistic premise with a VILLAIN, ask yourself this question: "How does this character/villain see this situation so that everything he does is right?" You see, villains don't see themselves as villains, they see themselves as doing the right thing. They are the hero of their play!
Take Tony Soprano. How was he JUSTIFIED in WHACKING people? Maybe he felt they were dishonest with him so he had some strange right to take them out. They had deceived and stole from him so he needed to kill them in order to maintain control of his business. Nuts, but probably pretty right on. And the crazy thing about Tony Soprano was, at times, we actually liked him! And he was a crook and a murderer!
Recently, a producer at Manhattan Rep started selling an inflated ticket package for our play competition on line without our authorization. This was patently dishonest and according to the law, a felony. So when we discovered this, we pulled his play from the competition and demanded that he return all the ticket money or we would bring him to court. We lost hundreds of dollars in revenue from the loss of his play in our competition but it was the right thing to do for he was being dishonest and committing a crime. It was a ridiculous turn of events. Like nothing we had ever experienced here before.
3 months later, we found a review on line of Manhattan Rep from this gentleman saying that I was a thug, and a crook and that I took money from poor producers! WHAT? He was the one who was selling inflated ticket packages for our theatre online without our authorization. He was committing the felony, yet I was a thug and a crook. Wow!
So I got to think about it in this "there are no villains" context? How could he justify that I was a crook when he was the one who being dishonest and actually committing a crime?
He could have justified that the ticket package price was only $9 over our ticket price and he was offering a drink so he really wasn't making a profit, and he said he was going to give us the remainder. Or he could have thought that he and his theatre company DESERVED to get some financial renumeration for all their hard work and if we didn't know about it, would anyone really be at fault? Or he simply could have thought, "If I sell tickets, I will be able to get more people in and possibly sway the vote and win the $1000 cash prize!"
It didn't help how I felt about this gentleman. I still don't like him and his slanderous, untrue remarks on line about me and my beloved theatre, and the way he was dishonest with us, but it did make me think about my villains, and how if one writes from " there are no villains" one just might be ahead of the game in creating a realistic and exciting work about real people in real situations - in real life.
Willie the Shake wrote the perfect example of this in Iago in Othello. Iago thought from the get go that he was the hero!
Love your villains. Make them heroes in their eyes.