On Why We Like a Good Villain

Every story needs a good villain. At least, that’s the recommendation I’ve seen everywhere I look when I’m trying to find solid writing advice. However, I’ve often wondered why this is something that’s so accepted as a needed element in a story. Surely you can have a good story without a villain?


Photo courtesy of Pixabay/raincarnation40 | License: CC0 1.0

Recently, I received a link to a free video series on editing. Shawn Coyne taught the series, and had a great overview of genre conventions (what people expect when they see a certain genre applied to a book), organizing tips, and much more. One convention he mentioned was the “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene. Then it clicked.

Several years ago, while writing a novel, I realized my ending felt flat. I couldn’t think of a way to fix it, until one evening I had a horrible idea for working climax in such a way that the main character was eventually caught by the man she was running from, and sent to her death . . . .

When Shawn mentioned the “hero at the mercy of the villain” scene, I almost shouted! No wonder it felt right—I had given my villain the perfect way to show his true evilness, and that made the story work! (Admittedly, there’s some fixing up that I need to do to make that scene shine, but at least that part is figured out!)

Then tonight, I was listening to a song by Josh Wilson about God judging Satan, and I suddenly had an illumination on why the “hero/heroine with archenemy who is eventually beaten” story is so popular—indeed, in some context or another that’s the backbone of almost every story! If it’s not external, it will be an internal villain, and either way you (normally) have an excellent story.

So why is this story type so popular? I propose that it’s an inbuilt thing—we all know (to some extent) of the great battle God has fought against the devil—the epitome of sin—ever since not long after the beginning of time. That is the greatest adventure story of all time. Since it is, we are naturally drawn to enjoy and want to write stories along those lines. No wonder there are so many emotional aspects to love about the scenes where hero trumps villain!

Question: How did your villain finally lose in your latest story?