A Villain’s Fatal Flaw

In my pursuit of advice about crafting villains, one idea comes up again and again: the villain doesn’t know he is a villain; the villain mistakenly thinks he is the hero.

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Now that I’ve found my villain and made him into a cruel and selfish kind of an antagonist, I realize he needs to be something more than mean and scary.

That being said, I could choose to write my novel from the perspective of my villain. Janice Hardy maps out writing from this different viewpoint in “I’m Not Evil: Writing From the Antagonist’s Point of View.” While that’s certainly a way to go, I have been enjoying seeing this novel through the protagonist, acting out her struggles against a dystopian society and my despicable antagonist. I’d simply rather write from the hero’s position. It’s way more fun, and I don’t really like the antagonist. He’s a bad guy.

Let’s not complicate this too much or take the joy out of storytelling. All I want is a good foil for my protagonist. Both protagonist and antagonist should have a fatal flaw. Just as a perfect hero can be annoying to read, so must a villain have more to say than “bwa ha ha ha.” MJ Bush of Writing Geekery discusses the importance of “Writing the Perfect Flaw” and a list of flaw types.

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I want a villain with some depth, not a flat, static meanie with no backstory and no reason to be evil. A good villain is a round character, as dynamic as the protagonist, with a tragic history or shadowy past and an annoying sense of self-righteousness.

So, going back to my original fascination with the idea that my villain doesn’t know he’s the bad guy. (How could he not know?) This could in and of itself be the fatal flaw, but I came up with a better idea.

I thought of the real-life villains in my own life. The politicians I shake my fist at on the TV or the ignoramus causing me consternation during a (would have otherwise been) friendly chat. What is the fatal flaw of those people?  They are the unsuspecting victims of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

What is this mysterious Dunning-Kruger Effect, you ask? In short, stupid people don’t know they’re stupid. (Inversely, smart people tend to think they are less intelligent than they actually are, but I digress.) They stop studying. They stop listening. They stop communicating. They stop trying to see others’ points of view. They stop empathizing. They are so sure they know everything, that they don’t bother to revise their ideas or opinions about anything.

In The Dunning-Kruger Effect: A Poisonous Paradox, a pair of learning professional bloggers lay out a common scenario, that moment when you’re talking to someone who is out of her depth, and the person is so ignorant that she does not recognize her own ignorance.

In other words, people who don’t know really think they do know. That’s their fatal flaw. That’s evil.

What’s wrong with most villains is that they are too stupid to realize they’re wrong. They’re certain they’re experts, and being right outweighs being kind or polite or anything else. That’s how all the evil-doing starts. They may even mean well. Often they’re too ignorant to realize they’ve become villains.

So, my Ayn Randian character just believes his own happiness is the most important thing. To my antagonist, the protagonist and her family are unfortunate losers, competition in a game they aren’t even playing. Bwa ha ha ha.

Happy writing! En Garde!

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8 thoughts on “A Villain’s Fatal Flaw

  1. This is a good article, and it will be helpful fleshing out my antagonists (got a couple of half-baked novels in progress).

    But enuff of that, this Dunning-Kruger effect really caught my attention. I’ve got a bad case of this in a bunch of areas of my life. It actually explains a lot! So thank you for that too!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the idea of a villain who thinks they’re a hero, I guess because it makes them even more dangerous in a way. People doing evil for evil’s sake don’t feel as motivated as somebody who thinks they’re doing the right thing somehow…. great post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

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