The sympathetic villain

Villain

: a character in a story or play who opposes the hero
or
 : one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty
:arousing sympathy or compassion
By nature, these two definitions probably should not be arranged together.  Sympathetic Villain.  They do not go hand in hand, but sometimes, in books, they do.
Have you ever fallen for the villain of the story?  Have you ever found yourself rooting for them when you know that you probably shouldn’t?
Star Trek: Into Darkness comes to mind when I think about a sympathetic villain, John Harrison played by Benedict Cumberbatch (But if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know that it’s only for a little bit that you feel this way).  Also, General Monroe from Revolution, played by David Lyons.
Benedict Cummberbatch as John Harrison
general monroe
See, both of these characters are admittedly considered the villain in both, the movie and tv show.  Yet, the writers/producers/JJ Abrams has made us feel sympathetic towards these characters.  I found myself almost yelling out loud for them not to turn evil because I saw the “good” in them.
I love sympathetic villains because frankly, what would we root for it we couldn’t root for the good of these villains – you know, besides the “hero.”  Don’t get me wrong.  I love heroes too, but there is something I love about having an author of a book or the person behind the idea for the movie/tv show make me feel for the villain and why they turned out the way they did.  You can see the good in them.  I love  that!
I think everyone has good inside of them, but sometimes circumstances, invented or otherwise, makes them choose the lifestyle they do.
How do you feel about villains being sympathetic?  Do you write these types of villains?  I have before, in Piercing Through the Darkness, and I guess maybe a little bit in Read Me Dead.  But, sometimes no sympathetic feelings are good too.  What do you think?

15 thoughts on “The sympathetic villain

  1. this was such an amazing post and I have to say I feel the same way about how I root for the sympathetic villain. I watch Revolution and I also found myself yelling at the Tv on several occasions because I know that they do have good in them. I also loved how you described the villain of the story in a book and if we as a reader have ever fallen for them. I think all of us at one time have encountered it and absolutely loved the examples you gave!

    Sylvia

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  2. I have written sympathetic villains not once but twice in my novels. Neither were the main villain but both were the type that you not only knew there was good in but something about the situation thy were in awakened that good. I guess you would say that they received the mercy of God and it awakened their redemption. Great post glad I’m not alone for wanting villains to have the chance at redemption.

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  3. I like villains of all stripes: Cackling evil, somber evil, evil with regrets, not an out-and-out horrible person, just doing out-and-out horrible things… My current section in my WIP is all about the story’s villain — the most black-hearted, most sympathetic villain I’ve ever conceived (or so my writing buddy leads me to believe). I think future readers will be begging for him to redeem himself. We shall see whether he can…

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  4. I found myself rooting for Loki in the Avengers movie.🙂
    Villains have to have some decency in them to make them more three dimensional. I00% evil villains are less frightening than those with a shred of humanity.

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  5. I think you can have a great villain either way. For example, Kevin Bacon in the last X-men movie was a great villain, completely unsympathetic but great fun to watch. He was a good contrast with Magneto, who is a “villain” but always has reasons and, I think in most cases, at least some of the audience’s sympathy.

    I just wrote a blog post about how “antagonist” and “villain” are not necessarily the same thing:
    http://u-town.com/collins/?page_id=4132

    I read an interview recently with a famous actor (I forget who, but definitely a veteran) and he was asked if he prepared differently to play a hero or a villain. “There’s no difference,” he said. “Everybody is the hero of their own story.”

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  6. Pingback: Tortured Heroes Blog Hop! | Emerald Barnes' Dreaming Awake Blog

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