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It’s a widely taught lesson among writers that “the villain thinks they are the hero of the story.” I am here to call B. S. on that myth.

Allegedly, this villain has some intense goal, and they do bad things for their cause. For people who who benefit by the cause, this makes the villain a “good guy.” Again, that is B. S.

Let me frame this with two different examples. First, the light-weight one. At the grade school where I work, you often have big kids taking things away from little kids. Basketballs, juice boxes, pencils. Why do big kids take things away from little kids? Because they’re bigger. Because they want that thing. Because the adults are going to mumble something about making good choices, and won’t actually stop them. (Except for me. I’m the Mean Lady of the school.)

Do these kids think they’re the hero of the story? No. They knew what they did was wrong, but they did it anyway. Would anyone looking at it from the outside think the bullying kids were heroic? Not likely.

Now for the heavy example. On September 11, 2001, a group of men hijacked several airplanes and caused them to crash into buildings here in America. Thousands were killed, and the U. S. later went to war in an effort to bring justice to the victims.

These hijackers believed in an intense cause. Did they think they were heroic? Maybe. But would anyone looking at it from the outside ever believe they were heroic? Again, not likely.

As writers, our most important job is to be honest. Even if we write something silly and flimsy, there has to be a core of truth. Don’t believe me? Read anything at all by Sir Terry Pratchett.

Writers cannot write some B. S. about bad guys thinking they are heroes and just leave it at that. “Oh, but they’re so noble!” No, they are not. If they truly were noble, they would find a non-evil solution for their problems.

Our villains know what they are doing is wrong, and they still choose to do it. We cannot make excuses for them. We have to own it.


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