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There Are No Villains (1921) 1

Amber smoothed her hand over his tie, flattening it against the line of buttons on his shirt, and looked up at him, her expression an odd mix of hesitant and hopeful.

I know this isn’t easy for you,” she muttered. “But, I really want us to try and have a pleasant evening. All right?”

Ross did his best to return her a smile, but it didn’t quite work. Because as much as he’d said (and wanted to believe) Sam was no threat to him, stepping onto her turf, into her sphere of influence, for the first time since that Christmas past – the night everything changed – was something entirely different.

Finally, he could only shrug, and say, “I’m here, aren’t I?”

The original title of this post was “Villains and Lovers,” but I thought the title for the 1921 film (which still is above) – “There are No Villains” – was more appropriate. Because one man’s villain is another man’s lover, just as one man’s insanity is another man’s genius, or one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

In the snippet above, the character of Sam stands as an antagonist for Ross. But, as the story is told only from Ross’s perspective, I want the reader to make his or her own judgments about Sam, apart from Ross’s prejudices. They need to do, if they’re to get a fuller picture of who she is and why she does what she does. Because, as I’ve said, one man’s villain is another man’s lover.

Villains in themselves can be a tricky lot. Some – a few – are absolute: devils incarnate who serve only to tempt, subvert, and destroy. More often, though (or, at least, more interesting), are the villains who exist as three-dimensional characters. In fact, your villain probably should have more than one dimension to them. If they just want to press that red button that blows up the world, there’s not much conflict that can’t be solved with a solid punch to the jaw (or a swift-talking mediator, if you prefer). But if your villain is a character in his or her own right – with feelings, motivations, and (dare I say it?) sympathies – that can and probably will create much more depth for all of your characters, not just that one.

What kind of villains are your favorites to read, or to write? Do you have suggestions of great villains to check out? (Of course, all of this applies only if your antagonist is sentient. You can’t exactly reason with a typhoon or a tumbling asteroid. Or, maybe you’ve figured out a way to do that, in which case, I really want to read your story!)