As we begin the 22nd decade of the 21st century (Math!), I want to pay a fitting tribute to the year we all love to hate. So, let’s talk about…
First, it’s more effective when your villain doesn’t act villainous. Remember, sociopaths/psychopaths typically present as quite positive. This is no doubt why they tend to rise to positions of power. According to the study: ”They [psychopaths] display emotions only to manipulate individuals around them.”
It’s all learned camouflage so that people won’t realize that they are empty inside. That’s why sociopaths can act so hatefully, without remorse, when they want to. But to present them exhibiting evil without first presenting the glossy exterior will render your villain into just another mustache twirling cliché.
The psychology runs deep. Toxic positivity masks the darkest negativity of all. As Janny Wurts, an author, recently posted on Reddit: “It has been said by some that people who ‘hate nobody’ are filled with hate – because they refuse to examine the humanity in themselves (and what is hate but love disappointed?).”
So, from a story-telling standpoint, it makes for a great reveal (think: Alan Alda in “Whispers in the Dark”, a never-to-be-forgotten ending to a very forgettable movie).
Finally, it takes more than just bait-and-switch. As with any character, in order to not be one-dimensional (i.e., acting only in service to the plot), there needs to be a motivation. No one is the villain of their own story. So, what is their reasonable reason for their villainous actions? The more objectively reasonable it is, the better. For example, Magneto’s plan in the first X-men movie was, arguably, the right thing to do—if you’re convinced you’re in a war for survival. Like that.