TSS #056: Crafting Your Villain as the Hero of Their Own Story with ChatGPT

by | Jul 8, 2023

Read Time: 5 minutes

Every memorable hero is mirrored by an unforgettable villain.

But it’s a common tendency for creative writers to devote more time to their heroes, leaving villains underdeveloped.

What if you treated your antagonist as the hero of their own narrative?

Let’s embrace this alternate POV to explore the depth and complexity it can bring to your story.

The True Power of Your Villain

An antagonist who outshines the protagonist often holds the key to a standout story.

Instead of caricatures like cackling witches or ruthless assassins, villains must be believable characters with genuine motivations. They are the main source of conflict, pushing your protagonist out of their comfort zone and triggering growth.

By understanding your villain’s motives, you not only fuel your hero’s journey, but also give your story a deeper, more compelling purpose.

Discovering the Hero Within Your Villain

To unravel your villain, you must first grasp their motivations.

Every villain is the hero of their own story, and as a creative writer, it’s your responsibility to occupy their headspace and know every reason behind their actions.

For example, Erik Killmonger, the antagonist of “Black Panther”, is not a conventional villain.

  • Born into poverty and hardship in Oakland, California, Killmonger stands in stark contrast to T’Challa, the protagonist, who has enjoyed a royal upbringing in Wakanda.
  • Killmonger’s motives stem from a deep sense of injustice. He desires to overturn a system that allows some to live in prosperity while others suffer, intending to use Wakanda’s advanced technology to level the playing field worldwide.
  • His methods — violent revolution — put him at odds with T’Challa, but they stem from a place of perceived justice and equality. In Killmonger’s worldview, he is not an antagonist but a liberator, a catalyst for change.

Stepping into Killmonger’s shoes allows us to reframe him not as a simple villain, but as a tragic figure advocating for what he believes to be a righteous cause.

This deep understanding of your villain’s motives can transform them into characters of profound depth, adding layers of moral ambiguity to your story.

Building Your Villain’s Perspective

How can you breathe life into your villain and reveal their inner hero?

Here’s a three-step jumpstarter process:

  1. Build their backstory: A character’s past shapes their values and actions, dictating how they interpret their surroundings and what emotions they experience.
  2. Fill out their worldview: How does your villain interpret their surroundings? Are they fueled by a twisted sense of justice, a thirst for revenge, or a belief in their divine right?
  3. Feel their emotions: Villains, like heroes, experience a spectrum of emotions. What fears and hopes dwell within your villain’s heart? What do they love, and what do they despise?

With this framework in mind, let’s look at two modern examples from pop culture: Loki from the Marvel Universe and Amy Dunne from “Gone Girl.”

Loki, the God of Mischief, began as a straightforward villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but evolved into a captivating antihero. His arc is a testament to the impact of nuanced character development and perspective.

  • From his initial appearances in “Thor” and “The Avengers”, Loki is positioned as an antagonist. Yet, beneath his trickster facade, he grapples with feelings of inadequacy and neglect. Adopted and raised as Thor’s brother, Loki lives in his sibling’s shadow, feeling like the lesser son in the eyes of their father, Odin.
  • His actions — destructive and selfish — are manifestations of his deep-seated yearning for validation and recognition. This quest for acknowledgement and acceptance is a universal human experience, making Loki a surprisingly relatable figure despite his villainous actions.
  • However, it is in the Disney+ series “Loki” that we truly come to understand the complexity of his character. One key moment is when Loki is forced to watch a projection of his future, including his own death and the real impact of his actions. This powerful scene offers a glimpse into his vulnerability, his regret, and his capacity for change.
  • Confronted with the reality of his life and his ultimate fate, Loki grapples with self-loathing, identity, and loneliness. He’s shown to be more than just a villain or a trickster god; he is a multifaceted character struggling with his past decisions and the trajectory of his life.
  • Loki’s character arc, as seen through the lens of his personal narrative, not only humanizes him but also repositions him as a genuine hero by the end of his series.
  • His transformation from villain to hero is not a sudden turn of events, but a result of strategic, believable and gradual character growth. It’s through understanding his past, acknowledging his mistakes, and striving for change that Loki is allowed to become a protagonist in his own right.

The character of Amy Dunne, on the other hand, subverts our initial perceptions in a startling narrative twist.

  • In the beginning, Amy is presented to us as the ‘gone girl’, the seemingly innocent victim of an abduction. Her husband Nick is cast under a cloud of suspicion as the troubled detective and public scrutiny bear down on him. It’s a familiar narrative, one we’ve seen unfold in countless crime dramas.
  • Yet, the narrative abruptly shifts when we learn that Amy is not only alive but the architect of the elaborate charade. Far from being the victim, Amy emerges as a cunning, manipulative figure orchestrating events to exact revenge on her unfaithful and neglectful husband.
  • Amy’s motivations stem from profound feelings of betrayal and a sense of being overlooked, even within her marriage. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and resolute in her decision to take control of her narrative, refusing to play the victim in a story written by others. While her actions are extreme and manipulative, they stem from an intense desire for justice, however warped that might seem.
  • Understanding Amy’s motivations and gaining insight into her perspective transforms her from a mere villain into a complex, multifaceted character. Her actions, while morally reprehensible, become intelligible within the confines of her logic and emotional world.
  • The character of Amy Dunne showcases the surprising depth and complexity that can be added to a story by understanding the villain as the hero of their own narrative. Despite her wrongdoings, Amy is the protagonist of her own twisted tale of justice and revenge, adding a riveting layer of intrigue to the narrative.

Understanding the perspectives of these villains does not justify their actions, but provides insight into their motivations. This transforms them from one-dimensional antagonists into complex characters who drive their stories forward with their own twisted tales of justice and revenge.

Strengthening Your Villain with ChatGPT

Now, let’s use ChatGPT to refine your villain’s perspective:

ChatGPT Prompt:

“Imagine you are a compelling antagonist, [Insert Antagonist’s Name], a central figure in my [Insert Your Genre Here] story, characterized by [Insert Any Known Key Traits, Backstory, Motives, etc.].

Now, picture yourself in a critical moment where you have the chance to justify your actions, and compose a persuasive monologue that includes the following, while maintaining a grounded, realistic tone:

1. Rationalization: How do you, as the antagonist, explain your actions in a way that they make sense within your personal moral framework?

2. Defense: Passionately defend your motives. What emotions drive you? How does your past influence your current decisions?

3. Assertion: Assertively claim your status as the true hero of the story. What makes you believe you are the hero? What personal or societal injustices are you fighting against?

4. Command: Command respect and challenge perceptions. How do you demand others to acknowledge your perspective? What misconceptions about you are you challenging?

5. Illumination: Illuminate your perspective in a way that defies the villain label. How are your unique logic and goals misunderstood?

In this speech, you’re not merely explaining your intentions; you’re stirring emotions, and revealing a complex individual driven by their unique logic and goals. Remember to avoid unnecessary theatrics. Think about how this character would really speak and express themselves in a critical moment. Make them see you not just as a villain, but a hero in their own right.”

Honoring the Heroism of Villains

Turning your antagonist into a hero in their own story makes your story more engaging.

This technique encourages readers to see things from different angles, keeping them more involved – because in every great story, each character, especially the villain, should be well-developed and complex.

By using this approach, you help readers develop a deeper connection with your antagonist, which can lead them to root against, or surprisingly, even champion their cause.

That’s it for this Saturday.

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See ya next week!

— Dave