Sympathy for the Villain

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’ve been writing bits of the story I’m working on from the perspective of other characters in the story. I’ve gone back to just before the story opens and written up to certain turning points, and I must say, it’s been really eye-opening as I figure out what each character thinks about the other characters.

The character who has surprised me the most is one of the villains. I’m not a villain-centered writer and have very little patience for the “poor, sad villain who had a sad life” narrative. Lots of people have sad lives, and it doesn’t excuse being a villain. But I seem to be edging toward a little more sympathy toward this villain now that I’ve been inside his head. It helps that he’s a secondary villain and is actually one of those shadowy characters who teeters on that line between good and bad. The bad stuff isn’t his plan, and he’s mostly a pawn in all of it. His problem is that he doesn’t resist when he realizes how bad what he’s caught up in is, and he makes the wrong choices at pivotal times, up to a point when I think I’m going to let him make the right choice (we’ll see when I get there). I found in writing from his perspective that I had changed my view about how much he knew, and that changes a lot (including a key conversation the viewpoint character partially overhears).

Now that I feel a bit sorry for this guy, it may change the way I write him, but then I don’t want readers to like him too much. I’ve seen how readers in general can glom onto the poor, sad villain. I want readers to prefer another character. But that means I need to make the other character more interesting. Strangely, although he’s a major character, he’s still a bit of an enigma to me, so I need to do more work on him. I like him, but I don’t think the reasons I like him are making it onto the page.

So, I have more work to do!

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