Two Dimensional Villains and When to Use Them

If you were to mention the archetypal mustache-twirling villain to the average reader or moviegoer, you might be answered with a laugh. Villains with no complexity, no other characteristic other than “pure evil,” are considered things of the past. Our pallets have evolved. This is where I offer a reminder that everything is fair game in the world of writing. With the right presentation, any bad idea can become a good idea. The mustache twirler is just another trope, just another tool in the box. So, are two-dimensional villains useful? Absolutely, and here’s how.

Today’s audience is one that, not only enjoy sequels but expect them. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s unusual for new intellectual property to stand alone. Every popular story gets a sequel. Many writers are creating works with the intention of producing a series or, at the very least, a trilogy. If you’re reading this, and are a writer planning out your first trilogy, then a mustache-twirling villain is essential. Where, you might ask? Your first story. Why you might ask?

Your first book has a lot of work to do if you’re planning a series. Not only do you have to introduce the main character to the audience, you have to introduce the world. And you have to do both of those things while crafting an interesting story. Although novels aren’t limited in length, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the focus on what’s important to the plot. Adding in a complex villain into the mix would take much needed time away from building the world and fleshing out your character. The main problem should be dangerous but shouldn’t evolve beyond “just a problem.”

Now I know some might be wondering: “What happens if I want to introduce the main villain of the story to be the main villain in book one?” Easy. Let’s call it the Kill Bill technique.

When Quentin Tarantino created the legendary Kill Bill movies he separated it into two parts. And when the film was split, each volume had its own purpose. Volume one drew the viewer in with an emphasis on action. Volume two moved the focus to the story. Here’s how that method translates to your needs.

In a trilogy, your first book should focus on your main character. Remember, in both volumes of Kill Bill, the titular Bill is the main bad guy. So, this leaves you with several options for your first story.

  • The obvious one would be to have your two-dimensional villain be a lacky of the main villain
  • Another would have your mustache twirler be unrelated to the main villain, but the ensuing battle would attract the attention of the main villain by the end
  • The main villain of the series/trilogy is your first villain but is introduced as a two-dimensional bad guy.

If you go with the third option, don’t tell us your villain’s story. By the second book, your audience should already be familiar with your character. Your second book will allow more freedom to explore other aspects, including fleshing out your big bad villain. Be warned, however. If your villain makes an appearance in the first book as a two-dimensional type, make sure the second book both explains his reasoning behind his actions AND you do this without retconning. It must be seamless. For example, the villain could conspire to destroy a dam resulting in the flood of a small town. In your second book, it could be explained that he planned to flood the town because there is a dangerous shapeshifting alien hiding amongst the populace. For an added twist, the town in question could’ve been your main character’s hometown AND it turns out that the alien had been the best friend but isn’t as dangerous or malicious as the villain asserts.

Writing can be intimidating, and the pressure really piles on while you’re writing your first piece for public viewing. You want to write the story in your head, but you’re constantly haunted by what you’ve been told you can and can’t do. Just relax. No trope is unusable. In fact, the rules for writing are pretty similar to the rules of the Assassin’s Brotherhood.

Nothing is true, everything is permitted

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