The Misunderstood Villain: Fantasy Trope Favorites Explained - Guest post by Olivia Brooks
by Anca Antoci
Introducing the guest post's author, Olivia Brooks
I haven't done a guest post in a very long time, so today I want you to meet my Twitter friend and fellow fantasy enthusiast, Olivia Brooks.
Olivia Brooks is a college student finishing off her Bachelor’s degree in Editing, Writing, and Media. She founded the small business Chronicles & Coffee which offers a variety of writing and reading blog posts, multiple social media platforms to help promote and support authors, and freelance editorial services. She is currently the Editorial Assistant at Thin Veil Press, the Editorial Coordinator for Florida State University’s English Department Internship Program, as well as an Editorial Intern for Black Thoughts Editorial Services. She plans to continue her education after finishing off her current degree and spends all her free time reading, writing, and spending time with family.
The Misunderstood Villain: Fantasy Trope Favorites Explained
When it comes to both reading and writing, I have always been geared towards fantasy. Making the impossible possible. At a younger age, I grabbed for stories where the children were the “chosen ones” and entered a fantastical realm in parallel with their own. Such examples are the Fablehaven series, Land of Stories, and of course, Harry Potter. As I got older though and matured in the fantasy genre, there is one trope I have a deep love for; the misunderstood villain.
When the Maleficent film came out, as well as the Disney Descendant films, both surface level examples but enough to do the trick for this case, it was like a calling. It satisfied every need I had when absorbing a fantasy story.
I love the villain!
I love to write stories with a prominent villain. Reading about their origin stories, motives, desires, motivations, needs versus wants, misunderstandings... The villain’s psychological background is the most intriguing aspect of storytelling. And when an author does it in such a way of complexity and heartfelt ideologies, it sticks with me forever. A recent read which conducted this so well was One For My Enemy by Olivie Blake. Every character could be seen as an antagonist or villain in one way or another, yet their conversations and thought processes were projected in such a way that we rooted for each of them to some extent. Felt for them. Empathized. And then in the end, took a step back and wondered how such acts of betrayal and brutality had me feeling the same thoughts I do towards a cute puppy!
The misunderstood villain in fantasy is limitless. There can be origins, and there usually is, regarding themes in family life or another aspect that can happen in real life. That is how an author hooks the reader right away. To be able to sympathize. And then the fantasy side of it adds the magical elements. Elements of sorcery, immortality, mystical teachings, fantastical creatures, whimsical settings... These aspects of the novel mixed with the larger themes of real-life issues is the first step to connecting the reader to the misunderstood villain.
Then in more complex terms of the villain, we see them lash out against the good guy and make irrational decisions. But if you are a researcher of the written word and the psychology behind it, it is important to note that every villain thinks that what they are doing is the right thing. No villain second guesses or tries to justify their actions, they reign over the fact that this is what’s best! A villain builds layer upon layer by acting, they lack to think beforehand and barely react after. This facade that “they know best” is the source of the misunderstood point.
A villain on the surface acts repulsively and inconsistently. They lash out and ignite the fire of an already downward spiraling protagonist. We want to defend the hero then and hate the villain. However, that is the misunderstanding of the villain. A villain has their reasons. But more than their reasons, they have an origin. And in many, if not most stories, the reader never gets to see the origin of the villain. An author does not want you to because, oh no, you may not like the protagonist as much.
The writer will leave out where they came from. How they were raised. The inciting incident in the villain’s personal lives. How they think and what their prominent personality traits really are. Of course, there are some cases where a villain’s actions are unjustifiable, but when we think back to Maleficent, the joker, Kylo Ren, Anakin Skywalker, Thanos... each have a story to be told. The misunderstood villain is a force to be reckoned with as a reader. It changes our perspective to see the story from more than the hero’s point of view. It diagnosis a story with deeper meaning than we originally sought.
But most of all, it helps us understand human nature on a much more mindful level.
In reading Olivia Brooks' insightful exploration of the "misunderstood villain" trope, I find her observations deeply inspiring. As someone who aims to create vivid and cinematic experiences in the realm of fantasy writing, I am captivated by her perspective on this trope. The way Olivia delves into the psychological background of villains, their motives, desires, and the complexity of their ideologies resonates with me profoundly.
Olivia's emphasis on the intricate layers of a villain's character development mirrors the essence of crafting a compelling narrative. The art of portraying a villain who believes they are right, regardless of their actions, is a powerful storytelling tool that allows readers to engage with the narrative on a multifaceted level. I am intrigued by the notion that a villain's origin story and underlying motivations, often left untold, can reshape our understanding of the entire narrative.
Olivia Brooks' exploration of the misunderstood villain trope has given me a fresh lens through which to view my own work. I can confidently say that I now have a new favorite trope—one that aligns with my aspirations to create characters and stories that not only captivate but also resonate with readers on a profound and empathetic level. I am grateful for Olivia's insights and am excited to weave this newfound inspiration into my own storytelling journey.