Portraying A Villain as a Hero – Guest Post by Terra Whiteman
You’ve seen it done before, a la Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, John Riddick in Chronicles of Riddick, and even Marvel’s Deadpool or Hellblazer‘s John Constantine. These characters all have one thing in common: they’re cynical assholes who seem to have no real sense of moral principle, and even if you hate them, you can’t help but find them compelling enough to continue following the story. Because let’s face it, villains and anti-heroes are pretty interesting.
I was always the type that found the villains more compelling than the heroes. Unfortunately, the villains always die or lose to the heroes in the more conventional stories because ‘good always prevails’ and blah-blah-blah. But in the past couple of decades, media has given way to a new type of story; a story where there is no actual defining hero or villain, and instead we are faced with shades of grey characters who walk the line between villain and hero. Take a look at any of the shows on HBO lately, or AMC, or practically any television drama series that isn’t quite ‘family-friendly’.
Maybe it’s because the ‘less-than-perfect’ hero adds a little realism to the fantasy. It’s easier to believe someone would pocket a wallet containing a thousand dollars than return it to its rightful owner, or want revenge dipped in blood on the person that killed his or her family. Violence and sex is what sells; they’ve been displayed in one art form or another throughout human history. And while I could comment on how screwed up that makes us sound as a species, that’d be straying a little off topic. The point is, we love our anti-heroes.
But portraying a villain as a hero is easier said than done. Doing so creates a divide and you’re automatically guaranteed to lose a large chunk of readership because some people just won’t like the character. It’s definitely not as safe as writing the wholesome do-gooder character that people may find predictable, but at least he’s not cursing like a sailor and punching kittens.
My mother recently started reading my series (which, by the way, I told her not to since she’s as soft as tapioca pudding and her favorite movie is Forrest Gump), and like clockwork she called me up a week later and the first thing she said when I answered the phone was:
“WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”
That was actually a bittersweet reaction. While it’s a little troublesome to know my mother thinks I’m psychotic, I now also know that I had really portrayed the bastard I was hoping for.
To give people a better idea, one of my reviews mentions that my hero is “temperamental, stubborn, violent, sexist, arrogant, vulgar and bigoted. Oh, and he’s got a drug addiction.” The review then goes on to say: “It’s a good thing that I found [him] to be a compelling character, because he’s certainly not a likeable one.”
And that’s just it; writing a story revolving around an anti-hero or villain doesn’t require you to create a likeable character. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. But the trick here is that you have to create someone who although is pretty detestable, is still compelling, and that sometimes requires a bit of empathy. You also have to create a story interesting enough that the reader is able to look past the anti-hero’s failings for the sake of finding out what happens next. In a sense, the anti-hero takes the weight off one element of a good story, but makes the others especially important.
Writing a villain for a protagonist was probably one of the hardest literary feats I’ve ever attempted, but it really made me appreciate authors that do this even more. Despite the gigantic list of cons that came along with writing an unlikeable character, I was able to step out of the box (in my case), substituting what was easy with near-impossible, having to go against every grain of morality I have. And, I admit it was fun. Like acting.
Which brings me back to my original thesis: nihilistic bastards are awesome.
Title: The Antithesis
Series: The Antithesis, #1
Author: Terra Whiteman
Genre: Dark, Fantasy, Dystopian, Philosophical, Science Fiction, Speculative
Publisher: 1889 Labs
Purchase:Amazon (Kindle) | Smashwords |
PRINT (ISBN: 978-1926959085)
Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indigo | Powells | Whsmith |
Justice Alezair Czynri is the newest recruit of the Jury, a group of powerful beings who reside in Purgatory and enforce the Code between Heaven and Hell. However, Justice Czynri could not have come at a worse time. A storm lays just over the horizon…
One that brings with it a war.
This is a story about God and the Devil, but not how you were taught to believe.
This is also a story about love and hate, and the suffering both can bring.
This is about rights and wrongs, and all of the spaces in between.
This is about revenge, courage, death, passion; with no villains, no heroes… only those left scorned.
This is a story about Heaven, Hell, and the Jury that holds them together.
This is The Antithesis.
A winding staircase led to the first platform a thousand feet up. As we approached the base, Leid tripped over her own feet, landing on her knees.
I moved forward, but she shot out a hand to stop me. I froze.
Then she lurched, vomiting blood all over the first step.
I reeled back, eyes wide, fear rising in my throat. Leid only crouched on the steps, panting.
“Jesus Christ!” I shouted, the confusion and fear now propelling into anger. “Are you dying?!”
“No,” she responded coarsely.
Leid tried to get up, but collapsed. She attempted getting up a second time, made it one more step, but then collapsed again.
I frowned, kneeling in front of her with my back turned. “Get on.”
Reluctantly she crawled over me, wrapping her arms around my shoulders, legs hooking my elbows. She couldn’t protest this time; walking was out of the question.
I began up the stairs, Leid now on my back.
“Thank you,” I heard her murmur quietly.
“Sure thing. Just don’t puke on me.”
The climb was exhausting, seeming to never end. Leid wasn’t heavy in the least, and in fact Vel’Haru could probably lift three hundred times their own weight; but the last four days of almost nonexistent sleep and nonstop traveling had finally caught up with me. I was tired, and it was showing.
I took a breather on the first platform. The second, I’d decided to just keep going. By the apex, I was staggering.
The apex platform was shockingly covered in moss. An iron gate surrounded a stone temple with a courtyard covered in…statues.
“What is this place?” I whispered.
“Civen’s old temple. Since the Deadland’s decline, another has been built in Alatonia.”
I now understood why she’d placed the statue here. It would have blended in perfectly with the garden of others surrounding the temple. My eyes drifted over the platform, a frown pulling at my lips. Something didn’t feel right. It was so quiet, though that had been consistent throughout the entire area. I really couldn’t explain why I had this sense of impending doom.
Slowly, I carried Leid toward the gate.
My hand pushed against it; it opened with a creak.
I stepped inside, eyes surveying the courtyard.
It was isolated, save for the ever still and silent stone army surrounding us. I moved to the side of the wall, kneeling and letting Leid slide off. She collapsed against the ground, limply sitting up.
I had to admit I was a little pissed off for the fact that there weren’t any demons here. All of this for practically nothing? Though I supposed it would have been considerably bad otherwise since Leid could barely move and I currently wasn’t at my best.
“Hurry,” she pleaded.
I nodded, and she hadn’t needed to point out which statue was the target. Despite the clever hiding spot, it stuck out like a sore thumb.
Surrounded in marble soldiers and half-naked maidens, a woman knelt; arm outstretched, eyes wide and lips parted in the beginnings of a despairing cry. She seemed carved out of black glass, shimmering like an obsidian beacon within the otherwise white wash of the garden.
…Obsidian. This woman.
I momentarily forget about my sick noble, slowly moving toward it, seamlessly weaving through the other nondescript statues. My eyes were narrowed, head slightly tilted in curious awe.
I stopped in front of her, drifting over the details of her face; all the while my face had become a contortion of disarray. I spun, pointing at the statue.
“Why does this thing look exactly like you?”
Leid tried to respond but coughed instead. When she was finished, she tried again:
“Will you just kill it, please? We’ll talk about this later.”
“…How do I kill it?”
“With your fists, you genius. Smash it to bits.”
“Exactly how were you expecting to destroy this thing on your own, by the way?”
“Shut up and finish it!”
“Not until you take back what you said.”
Leid stared, falling silent. She knew what I meant.
I waited, silent as well.
Conceding, she looked away shamefully. “I was angry; I didn’t mean it.”
“What didn’t you mean?”
“I would never regret meeting you, Alezair. I’m sorry.”
Though I’d coerced her into saying this, I could tell she was being sincere. Her expression was somber, painfully so.
I grinned. “Thanks. One pile of black sand coming right up.”
I turned, just as a thwump broke through the air. I felt a pinch. My grin faded into a confused wince and I looked down at the source of the sharp pain.
…There was a dart sticking out of my chest.
I looked up at Leid, though my vision was already beginning to blur; the world around me swayed. She was screaming something, pointing behind me, but now everything was moving in slow motion and I was having trouble comprehending.
I was about to turn but was tackled; a group of hands held me down, shoving my face into the moss. I thrashed, snarling, still strong enough to fling some of my assailants off. But each time a pair of hands left, another instantly replaced them. I couldn’t see anything—just a cluster of feet as the crowd scurried around, trying to keep me down.
Another group of feet left the crowd and began for Leid, who at this moment was hopelessly trying to crawl away. As they got further from us I could see them clearly:
Demons. Tons of them; at least two dozen.
Instead of retreating for the gate, Leid deliriously went the wrong way. During the struggle I’d been shoved about twenty feet from the statue. She was crawling toward us.
The demons pursuing her eventually backed off, waiting at the first row of statues. When Leid passed the third row, a shadow slid out from one of them, advancing slowly in a steady, calculated gait.
I squinted, teeth clenched and still struggling, trying to see the demon clearly. And then I did.
It was Caym Stroth, Raith’s second general. Unusually dressed in a black suit, the Obsidian Court insignia on his right shoulder, he held a giant serrated axe, swinging it nonchalantly at his side. He whistled an unfamiliar tune as Leid scrambled toward the statue. It seemed she was too delirious to even see him.
“Leid!” I screamed, though it was pointless because she couldn’t hear me. “Leid, behind you!”
She was now within a foot of the statue. Gasping, she reached toward it with a trembling outstretched hand.
Caym stopped behind her, lifting the axe over his head, his lips curling into a malicious sneer.
Terra Whiteman is a scientist who writes whenever she’s not doing things that scientists do. She loves philosophy, chemistry, biology, classical literature, graphic novels, loud, obnoxious music, frog slippers and beer.
Find the Author: