Can a villain learn to love?

When someone hurts me or is generally an asshole, I try to see things from their perspective. Maybe they had a bad day and don’t know how to deal. Maybe they have a tumultuous life, so they lash out as a way to feel in control. Maybe they secretly hate themselves and just want to feel a tiny bit good at whatever cost.

You could say I’m making excuses for people. Maybe I am. It’s exhausting, but what the hell else can you do, right? If we don’t make a point of reflecting, learning and growing, we only end up hurting people or generally being assholes ourselves. 🤷🏼‍♀️

In one of my WIPs, the antagonist, Elle, is a female administrator who has unrequited feelings for Owen, the male MC. Elle comes down hard on Celeste, the female protagonist, though it’s never really clear why.

I don’t want to make it straight-up jealousy because, even though she might be jealous of Celeste and Owen’s good working relationship, I don’t believe in jealousy by itself as a driver for asshole behaviour. Sure, jealousy can make people behave terribly, but if jealousy stems from deeper issues of, say, self-esteem or feelings of powerlessness in an indifferent world, well… that demonstrates vulnerability.

Which makes for a more relatable antagonist.

Which ups the complexity of the conflict and the overall interestingness of the story.

In a simple story, you root for the MCs and hope the villain finally fucks off. But when you can relate to the antagonist, maybe even identify with them a little, you kind of end up rooting for them too. You want them to get their comeuppance for giving the protagonists a hard time, but at the same time, you feel a bit sorry for them and want some of their previous conflicts resolved as well.

Well, that’s how I feel about it, at any rate.

I’m sure I hurt people all the time without realising it. I don’t mean to. But you can never tell what your offhand comment really means to someone. And being constantly vigilant about my own behaviour is exhausting. So I appreciate the understanding when I let something slip—when I’m the villain in an exchange.

That said, I’m trying not to overcomplicate Elle’s villainy. This WIP is very much Celeste’s and Owen’s office romance. But I’m getting the urge to follow it up at some point with a story for Elle. She’s the worst of the worst admins and managers I’ve worked with, and the worst of the villainous traits in myself. What turned her into such a self-righteous cow?

Can someone like her—like all of us, in a way—learn to love?

Readers: What kinds of villains have you liked in the past? What did you like about them?

Writers: Have you ever written from the perspective of your villains? How did they justify their behaviour?

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