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Villain as Friend

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Villains. Sometimes they are friends turned against us, fallen heroes, antiheroines, the side of right in their own mind, or just plain bad people. Their motivations should be at least as complex as the protagonist's, and in many cases villains drive the story, not the protagonist. Any one of the above options and many more are valid ways to construct your foil to the person we root for.

Friend Vs. Friend

As we begin our journey into the variations of villains, we need to start first with several questions. Every villain you create should have a clear one or two sentence answer to these questions.

1) What is the antagonist’s motivation?

2) What is their goal?

3) What is their internal conflict (if any)?

4) What is their relationship to the protagonist?

Some people may say the motivation and the goal are the same, but there is a difference that should be looked at more carefully. A goal is what the character wants to achieve, the motivation is why they want to achieve it. A motivation is usually something which stems from the character’s past, while a goal is usually an action to be carried out in the future. Examples:

I want to be the ruler of the country, (goal) because my mother was the rightful heir, and it was stolen from her. (motivation)

I want to see the current king put in jail, (goal) because he stole the throne from my mother, the rightful heir. (motivation)

I want to kill the king, (goal) because he stole the throne from my mother, the rightful heir. (motivation)

The list can keep going. One motivation may give rise to many different goals in a villain. The anger and resentment in this case may give rise to very different plots or actions. How they chose which of those they engage in, may be due to an internal conflict. The villain’s person vs. person story, may show they are unwilling to kill, because their mother was killed. Maybe they believe sternly in justice, because although their parents lost the throne, they were taught that to operate inside the law, even though they understandably want vengeance. Etc.

Lastly, we must ask, how is the protagonist involved in all this? Do they know the villain? Are they in the way of the villain’s goals? Are they a pawn of the villain, and perhaps change sides? Maybe they even share the villain’s motivation, but they cannot get behind the goals.

Villain as friend allows a unique and deep look at the way a conflict may erupt between two people. Perhaps two friends both had a business destroyed by a rival. One vows vengeance while the other vows to start again. Perhaps both friends start down the road of vengeance while one comes to their senses, and the other does not. Perhaps for religious reasons, one believes to turn the other cheek, and the other won’t.

In a villain as friend tale, do you have the situation where they are not willing to harm one another? What ways they directly butt heads may be determined by the depth of their previous friendship. How will the protagonist thwart plans if they are not willing to do direct or even indirect harm? How will the villain perhaps be thwarted because they won’t hurt their friend? Perhaps all the friend needs to do is be in the right place at the right time, and the villain would call it off out of historical loyalty?

Is it possible to make the right side so ambiguous it isn’t even clear who is in the right?

Captain America Civil War

The important part is a focus on the relationship between them. When a villain is the known entity, the inner dialogues, the reasons and the conversion between these two characters on opposing sides becomes all the more important to flesh out.

Go build some villains, think about why you would be friends with them, and then why you might disagree. Always remember, writers write. If you found this inspirational for your writing, don’t forget to subscribe here for more on the villain’s series, and don’t forget to visit the conflicts series.

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