Villains Need Love Too – Part Two

January 10, 2018 | Writing

Star Wars- The Last Jedi has debuted. I saw it. No spoilers but I enjoyed it and was pleased I wrote about Darth Vader and Kylo Ren in part one on loving your villain.

I planned on editing and posting part two of my post on antagonists but of course there was Christmas, family, a seven-year-old granddaughter, and a flu bug that took me down Christmas night, right after The Doctor Who special, and left me weak and susceptible to every request made by my granddaughter. Like any good antagonist the bug discovered my physical weakness, manipulated it, and wore me down. I preserved like any good heroine, drank lots of water, vitamin C chewables, OTCs, and crawled under a blanket until my body defeated the evil. Of course it was 2018 by that time. So here’s part two.

Villains or antagonists are essential to your story. The hero needs a reason to move out of their ordinary world and the villain serves this purpose. Villains have a backstory, motivations, goals, and hopefully conflicts if you plan on redeeming them. If they aren’t conflicted by their actions, they should die like the dirty dog they are. You as a writer should know all of this even if it doesn’t make it onto the page or screen. Is your Andy going to be redeemed or are they going to die?

Casablanca is my favorite love story movie. I cry at the end every time I watch it. Humphrey Bogart is Rick, Ingrid Bergman is Ilsa, Claude Rains is Captain Renauit, Paul Henreid is Victor Laszlo, and Conrad Veidt is our villain Major Heinrich Strasser. Each actor was cast perfectly for their role.

In Casablanca Rick is the hero. He’s stoic, a loner off the grid, yet still has a soft spot for true love. His armor is rusty and he’s tired of the fight. He’s run away to Casablanca to hide his pain and make money. But his true love, Ilsa shows up – with her husband, Victor. And Victor is a real hero. Rick’s pain comes back, he turns on Ilsa. And then – cue the dark music, Major Strasser struts into Rick’s bar.

Vogler in Hero’s Journey says the hero’s entrance should tell you about them. The first behavior should be character. The same holds true for an Andy. Before Strasser enters the cafe, we already know details about him that prove when we finally meet this man he ain’t hero material. He’s in full dress uniform, medals on his chest, his posture is spine stretching straight. He’s always at attention. He pauses in the doorway of Rick’s cafe and draws everyone’s attention.

So who is he? He’s a high ranking German officer (bad), he’s a Nazi enforcer (double bad), his orders are to clean up Casablanca, find Victor Laszlo and escort him back to Germany (all very, very bad). Strasser is my Andy. He is the hero of his own story. He believes he’s right. He serves Nazi Germany and a believer in the Third Reich. Vogler suggests at least once going thru the story in the antagonist’s skin. Sometimes that’s difficult to do because writing bad people isn’t as much fun as writing nice people. How do they see themselves? The world? Strasser’s a winner and he’s about to capture the man who inspires others to rebel against tyranny.

Flip this for a moment. What if Strasser is a German officer fighting the Third Reich from within and comes to Casablanca to rescue Victor Lazlo? And Rick wants to turn Lazlo over to the Germans for money and have Isla for himself. Sends shivers down my spine. The change makes Strasser a hero, and Rick the …. Oh Hell, Andy.

But that’s not how the story goes. Strasser is Rick’s nemesis, the dark to Rick’s light. Rick’s original plan is to sit back and do nothing. But Strasser pushes him to take a stand. Why does Strasser choose Rick to intimidate? Rick is everything Strasser hates. An American who believes in freedom, equality. If Strasser can break Rick and take Laszlo back to Germany he’s succeeded in his assignment. Glory, honor, prestige. He will prove his worth to his superiors.

Rick faces off against Strasser. The dark moment, the last opportunity for Strasser’s redemption comes when he discovers Lazlo is leaving Casablanca. Rick gives him a chance to stop, warns him twice. Strasser sees his future success flying away, everything he’s work for, killed for, leaving and disgracing him. He’s probably never failed. He can’t, won’t be redeemed. He’s shot dead, not changing whatsoever in the movie. And I’m here to advocate that’s okay. Strasser’s role is not to change, his role is to push, make Rick see he needs to get back in fight. His final words to Ilsa make tear up. They don’t matter to a hill of beans compared to the fate of the world. Rick needs to abandon his safe sanctuary and return to fight taking Captain Renault with him. The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

But that’s okay. Not every Andy is redeemable. Darth Vader, redeemable, Loki, working both sides of good and bad, Voldemort, definitely unredeemable. As a writer once you fully know your Andy and have decided to kill or redeem them it should be written in a true fashion so the reader doesn’t roll their eyes in disbelief. Vader was forced to make a decision, let Luke die or save him. In that last moment Vader chose to save his son, sacrificing his own life. My antagonist, Richard, is not redeemable. He’s the force that makes Sophia decide whether she’s on the side of good or bad. But can she destroy him, without destroying herself? But first, my girl has to suffer.

The important thing is you have to build up to the villain’s black moment. Make them twist and turn, debate internally what their decision should be. You just can’t have them hand over the weapon after the hero/heroine says ‘You’re good, I know you are.’ After all the turmoil and destruction Andy has caused they can’t just say, ‘Okay you’re right.’ They have to struggle with what they’ve done, believe they must atone for their wrongs. Go to jail, lose the love they think they deserve.

So write your Andy like you love him.

Footnote: Conrad Veidt, the actor who portrayed Major Strasser was a strong advocate against Nazi Germany. His third wife was Jewish and he refused to renounce and divorce her. It meant he’d be blacklisted. So be it, he and his wife moved to Great Britain. He gave his life savings to the British government for the war effort. Veidt when cast in German roles insisted he be the villain.

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  1. Oddly enough, Yasmine, while I did not exactly ‘love’ my worst antagonist/villain, I did feel sorry for the man, despite the awful things he did. You see, I knew ~why~ he behaved so badly, and it wasn’t entirely his fault. So yes, I think we can manage positive feelings toward our villains. After all, without them, the story would lack that particular exciting tension.


    • Hi Mairi Thanks for posting a response and I agree totally with how you build your villain. Understanding them is vital to the characters and the plot.


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