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Rooting for the bad guy

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Sept. 11, 2021
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Normally in stories there is the hero vs the villain or the protagonist vs the antagonist. As the audience, we generally expect to root for the hero or the protagonist and hope for the villain's or antagonist's comeuppance.

But there come those times when we find ourselves rooting for the villain instead!

There are several reasons why this can happen.

1. The protagonists are annoying.

This isn't necessarily unintentional, or generally due to bad writing (though it can be). It's a regular occurence in horror movies, especially splatter or gore fests, or where the attraction is watching the protagonists being creatively murdered. It's a lot more entertaining to watch annoying people get skragged rather than sympathetic ones.

Of course there is the unintentional variety too, which simply comes out of poor dialogue, unsavory characterization, or hamfisted overused tropes. If that happens, the audience might wish for the villain to rid them of the character.

2. The villain's motivations are very relatable.

There come some villains that aren't seeking to conquer the world or destroy it. They may simply want to get cancer treatment for their kid, or save themselves from hunger, or escape terrible abuse, or any other situation or context that makes the villain's actions feel… not necessarily justified, but understandable, even warranted.

This type of villain could easily have been the hero if only they targeted someone who was ethically liable for their plight: the problem is they are lashing out to other innocents. Despite that, often these villains will get the audience at least partly on their side, which creates tension and conflicting emotions, thus even better immersion and engagement.

3. The villain is fighting an even worse villain.

The villain might be horrid in every way, with little to no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The audience normally loathes this person…

…but then along comes this even worse villain who manages to be more horrible, more terrifying, more loathesome than the usual one. And it so happens that for whatever reason, the usual villain sets out to fight this new, worse guy/gal. (Usually their interests clash)

That's when the audience will root for the usual villain against the worst villain they are facing, and cheer on if they are winning. There's great entertainment value in this kind of duel/fight because a villain fighting another villain will not be constrained by ethics or inhibitions like heroes tend to be: they will fight dirty, they will fight to win, they will go all in with whatever twisted practice it is they have. And this time the victim deserves it, so the audience can enjoy the scene without anxiety for the protagonist/hero.

Have you ever had your audience root for the villain?

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comment

anonymous?

PaulEberhardt at 8:02AM, Sept. 13, 2021

I often root for the villains, Black Pete being the first I can remember in a long line. Often they're more gritty, complex characters than the heroes will ever be and in those cases I perceive the story as a battle between white vs. grey rather than black vs. white, and since white is usually too holier than thou for me, I'll always support team grey. All of my characters have some kind of mean streak for that reason, even if some of them are better at hiding it than others.

cdmalcolm1 at 1:29AM, Sept. 12, 2021

I don’t know if I have my readers cheering for the bad person or not. I just write from their point of view. One show that I loved to cheer for was the evil queen in Once upon a time the tv series. (Had a serious crush on her). Any ways, as bad as she was her battle with not getting her “happy ending” was a big issue in the series. When she later decided to go the good route, it was more or less the same battle. Others in the series that are bad were very evil or wicked but it was always from why they did from a bad or jealous situation. The first 3 season were great. The 4th jumped the shark for me. I still watched it all the way to season 5 but they were reaching too hard for nostalgia from the first season to me. So yeah, Evil Queen, (lord, she beautiful… oh sorry)

fallopiancrusader at 8:33AM, Sept. 11, 2021

I remember watching the original “Batman” tv series as a kid. I realized early on that the heroes were a pair of monotonous stuffed shirts, while the villains were always so flamboyant and stylish. It just doesn’t get any better than Eartha Kitt playing catwoman! I always rooted for the villains, as they cruised about in their submarine of evil, with four periscopes.

usedbooks at 4:21AM, Sept. 11, 2021

I have a couple "bad guys" that are made for that in opposite ways. Lol. Raidon is my most complex. He generally hates the other villains and has a moral code. He also is always on the side of one of the protagonists (Kaida) because he's basically a stalker with his obsession. He's very much not a likable character, but he does helpful things, so people don't want to root for him. Then I have a fun bad guy named Jack, who is just a horrible, shallow, self-centered, greedy individual. But he's a charismatic life-of-the-party. So you are never rooting for him (because he does bad things), but he's fun to have around, so you don't really want him to lose. He also spent at least one arc as a neutral plot device with no malice or antagonism. My characters are not strictly antagonist/protagonist, pick-a-side. They have many benign interactions and few solid loyalties. (I have at least two very evil people who no one will ever root for, though.)

bravo1102 at 4:09AM, Sept. 11, 2021

Did the worse villain one in Tales of SIG with Lon and Fy-zorla and Battle of the Robofemoids where Bill and Hank two of the villains from the previous installment meet Theda who'so much worse than Bob ever was. In fact Bill and Hank are the protagonists though they are technically villains. There's also the recurring character of Bob, who may be the villain, but he's a fun and goofy villain like Lon.


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