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The Role of the Anti-Villain: Essential to a Great Story?

by Clarke Scott | Last Updated: September 2, 2021

One of the most important roles in any story is that of the good guy. He’s usually the protagonist, someone who saves the day and gets what he wants. This hero archetype has been around for centuries because it works. It can be found in folk tales, comic books, TV shows, and more recently, movies like The Dark Knight Rises or Iron Man.

But there’s another type of character that often flies under our radar: The Anti-Villain. These are characters who have motivations just as strong as those of a hero or protagonist but whose methods are less than admirable. Whether they’re driven by greed, revenge, or something else entirely, these anti-heroes always make for an interesting read.

These “villains” are often an essential part of a story. Whether they’re in the background or take center stage, they add to the suspense and adventure that makes us so drawn to these types of stories. The best writers know how to use them just right- when every “anti hero’s” purpose is properly realized, it will add to the “good guy’s” story and make for a more satisfying read.

This is an article about anti-villain in stories. One of the most important roles in any story is that of the good guy. He’s usually the protagonist, someone who saves the day and gets what he wants. the anti-villain is not that.

What is an Anti-Villain

These villains are often an essential part of a story. Whether they’re in the background or take center stage, they add to the suspense and adventure that makes us so drawn to these types of stories. The best writers know how to use them just right- when every “anti hero’s” purpose is properly realized, it will add to the “good guy’s” story and make for a more satisfying read.

Anti-villains are characters who have motivations just as strong as those of a hero or protagonist but whose methods are less than admirable. Whether they’re driven by greed, revenge, or something else entirely, these anti-heroes always make for an interesting character.

But there’s another type of character that often flies under our radar: The Anti-Villain. These are characters who have motivations just as strong as those of a hero or protagonist but whose methods are less than admirable. Whether they’re driven by greed, revenge, or something else entirely, these anti-heroes always make for an interesting read.

Unlike their evil counterparts, anti-villains are not completely depraved. Because of this, they are incredibly difficult to despise, even though they have committed many terrible acts. The people they are attempting to manipulate may not be willing participants in the end. They have justifiable, noble aims in their own minds—how they go about achieving them is what causes the hero difficulty.

Every villain has his or her own set of morals, and a key lesson to remember is that there is rarely a true choice between right and wrong. A good guy who pursues his own motivation because he believes it is the best choice, while a bad guy who does the same thing appears to be evil in contrast. The ethical conundrum is at the core of the story and thus creates an internal conflict that the view will likely feel compelled to resolve.

Anti-Villian Vs. Anti-Hero

An anti-villain is a villain with redeeming qualities, whereas an anti-hero is a hero lacking in appealing characteristics. For examples of anti-heroes, think Tony Soprano or Walter White from Breaking Bad. They might do the right thing, but mostly out of self-interest. They’re typically depicted as principled characters with a blurred sense of morality. Often somewhat isolated, their courage and willingness to undergo difficulties are usually a consequence of their circumstances.

The “anti-hero’s” purpose is not to be a “bad guy,” just one who can’t necessarily be trusted. He may even have some admirable traits, such as intelligence and fearlessness, but he lacks the basic element of trustworthiness that enables us to feel fully confident in him/her or depend on his/her actions.

For instance, the character of Tom Ripley of The Talented Mr. Ripley or Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The narrative function of these characters is to create a sense of 

The Purpose of the Anti-Villain

The purpose of the anti-villain, on the other hand, is to create good guys.

Screenwriting and narrative writing, more generally, is about creating a world, setting characters in motion in that world, in some interesting and unique manner. But a character alone is boring. So one easy way to create conflict is to introduce an outside force that is actively working against the protagonist.

To add spice to this basic character structure, you can add the anti-villain to help balance the story. “What’s the best way to do this?” you might ask.

There are several ways in which an anti-villain can be created, but here are three sure-fire methods that will create a compelling “antagonist.”

Anti-Villain Method # One: The bad guy with standards.

5 Types of Anti-Villians

The Moralistic Anti-Villain

There is an infinite number of wicked characters who just want to do evil for no apparent cause. This kind of villain has a noble quest. I think of it as a villain with a code. Omar Little comes to mind when thinking of this type of anti-villain and fits the category well. The anti-villain is someone evil and morals—perhaps even moralistic in their own way. They have a set of rules to follow, even if these rules are twisted. Their action is a choice, which makes them pretty bad but in a good way for choosing to do it this way. 

The Anti-Villain You Pity

But in reality, the antagonists in movies are frequently depicted as all-powerful and self-assured. However, this isn’t always the case. There are individuals who become bad due to unfortunate or terrible events. The only thing that matters to me is my family. I have no choice, I have nothing else. All of this evil behavior has been forced upon me because someone just like you took away everything I loved. The anti-villain you pity is not so much a bad person as an unfortunate one who just wants to be happy. He has happened to fall into evil deeds. A bad guy, who is a victim of circumstance, and the only thing he/she wants in life is to somehow get out. This person doesn’t want power or control. 

And their actions are. They were motivated by love or loyalty rather than pure selfish reasons. They might even suffer from being unjustly accused of something and act from this point of view, even if those actions are those of the villain.

The Anti-Villain You Fear

This type of anti-villain has no motivation to be good. They’re just evil for the sake of being evil. Hannibal Lecter and Cruella de Vil are two examples that come to mind. They have no other reason to be evil. It can’t, however, be rationalized in the same way as some of the others we’ve discussed previously. This villain lacks in humanity, but it makes up for it with a burning desire to eradicate anything good.

This “villain” is, without a doubt, the most terrible. This person does not have any sort of redeeming qualities that make him or her worthwhile to society. They are evil for evil’s sake, and this kind of villain will always give you nightmares because they really do lack all morals whatsoever. This type is scary because they have no conscience at all. They don’t care who gets hurt or what happens as a result of their actions. They’re “bad” for the sake of being “bad.”

The Wrong-Headed Anti-Villain

It’s also possible that you and the villain will agree on something. Sometimes, they may even want the same thing as the protagonist, yet there are many ways to go about it. Your hero and villain may have the same foes on their journey to success, but that doesn’t imply they approach it in the appropriate way.

This is especially true if they’re revolutionary fighting against an unjust system. The chances are that this anti-villain is well aware of what they’re doing wrong, but they believe it’s the only way. 

“Well-intentioned” doesn’t excuse their actions, but it does make you understand why they do what they do.

The “Anti Villian Has Standards” Anti-Villain

This is the most common type of anti-villain out there. The “anti-villain has standards,” if you will. This category covers a lot of different types of “bad guys,” such as the “anti-hero” and “villain with a code.” This is someone who does some bad things, but not always. It’s about more than just doing “evil for evil sake.” Maybe they don’t think what they’re doing is wrong or isn’t that terrible.

The Claytons Anti-Villain 

In Australia, during the ’80s, there was a TV commercial for a product called Claytons. Their tagline was the drink you’re having when you’re not having a drink.

So this kind of anti-villain is a villain you’re having when you do not have a villain, and as such, it is nearly always a bad choice. Why? Because like Claytons the drink, the point is muted by the very premise of the product. Think of the antagonistic forces from the Uprising. They are simply there without any real reason other than to create a direct oppose the protag. It comes off as a weak narrative device. 

I think of the bad guys in “Uprising” as being a part of this category.

They have to work with each other and might even like one another when it’s all said and done. But their cause is at odds with the hero’s own mission to save his people from oppression (and probably overthrow them). This villain is bad because they’re trying to stop the hero. And that’s it.

Why You Write an Anti-Villain

You write an anto-villain into your story in order to make the kinds of characters, in this case, an antagonist, deeper and more complex. We’re all about showing, not telling. If a character is just evil or bad, it’s difficult for us to care. These villains are so distinct because they give viewers the opportunity to understand why these characters have turned out this way and what makes them tick. This gives more dimensionality to even the most seemingly insignificant of bad guys.

But you do not want to do it just because you can. That means we need to assess if the screenplay needs this type of character. A good anti-villain will make your screenplay compelling. But a weak one will wreck a good story. 

Writing a good villain that’s not only identifiable but memorable is not easily done. 

 If you’re looking for your screenplay to “pop,” the anti-villain may be just what you need.

If an anti-hero or anti-villain is not frequently found in your story, that’s okay! Just remember that they are essential to creating a well-rounded narrative and can contribute greatly to character development.

Summary & What’s Next

In summary, anti villains are bad guys who have understandable motivations for what they do. They may even show that evil doesn’t always mean evil. Or, good intentions can lead to bad things in certain circumstances when it comes down to the desire to achieve a goal. Sometimes an anti-villain is someone fighting back against oppressors or the system. They don’t always have to be evil and bad guys, even if they’re fighting against the protagonist.

In our next article, we’ll go over some ways an anti-villain can develop your characters in a story so you can write screenplays with compelling antagonists who drive a narrative forward.

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