This week’s video shows why the ultimate bad guy doesn’t always make for the ultimate story.
Video Transcription: Bad-to-the-bone bad guys drive fiction, just as much—if not more so in some ways—as the likable and intriguing good guys. Since the whole point of a bad guy is that he’s bad, we want to make our antagonists as despicable as possible—and who’s more despicable than the devil—or an “antichrist”? Many popular books and movies take advantage of both these entities, displaying the ultimate evil, and thereby forcing their protagonists to go head to head with the ultimate villain. Sounds like the making of a thrilling story, right? I’m not so sure.
As was driven home to me by a book I just finished, the devil makes a lousy bad guy. This is so for a couple of reasons. One: Just as supreme goodness in a hero is boring, so is supreme evil. Bad guys are people too, and just like the good guy, they’re much more interesting and compelling if they come complete with shades of gray. In life, we never find great evil without some spark of goodness anymore than we find great goodness without some flaw.
Two: Despite the fact that a devil-like character can bring insurmountable odds to the table, he ironically only increases the reader’s assurance that the hero will be beat him. There’s always the possibility that a human bad guy will triumph. After all, they triumph all the time. But the devil victorious is simply unthinkable. We know, without a doubt, that the good guy is going to find some impressive (and probably unbelievable) way of besting this supreme evil.
Finally: The fact that the bad guy represents utter evil too often means that the good guy, by default, is utterly in the right. The opportunities for internal conflict (although certainly still present) are much less likely to be utilized. And, as a result, the story suffers thematically as well.
Although these types of antagonists can be done well, remember that even the likes of Darth Vader had a spark of goodness left in his heart. And he was more interesting because of it.
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Story by K.M. Weiland