I heard it again last week, the theory that “villains and heroes are both the same, they see themselves as the protagonists of their own stories.”
Not usually. It is true that sometimes a villain imagines himself to be a hero. An ecologist who blows up a tractor in order to save the redwood forest might see himself as a hero. A racist teacher who puts a minority in “his place” might think she’s being heroic. But I’m convinced that this accounts for only a small fraction of villains.
Let me put it this way: When I was young and my grandfather in the Mafia described the world, he would say simply, “We are wolves, and all the rest of the people out there are sheep.” We are predators, they are prey.
As I worked in the prison in my 20s, I met lots of men who had a similar worldview, and I found that the wolves become especially dangerous when they form packs.
Of course, any time that a person looks down on another group, they have already succumbed to evil. A person who believes that only intelligent people deserve respect is vile. A person who looks down on others who can’t afford the right kind of distressed jeans will normally be despicable.
There are plenty of ways for your antagonist to be evil, but you don’t need to imagine that they feel good about it.
I will be teaching a master class writing workshop at Fyrecon this June in Layton, Utah. You can learn more about it here!
I will also be teaching at SpikeCon in July, also in Layton, Utah. Learn more here.