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May 24, 2022

What Is an Anti-villain?

We've all heard of anti-heroes in films and how they help you but have you ever heard of the anti-villain trope? So what does anti-villain mean, and how can you use this trope in your writing to make your script more exciting? 

Let's dive straight into it. 

What is an anti-villain? 

An anti-villain is a villain whose goals or ends are generally benevolent, but their means of getting there are evil. They don't care about what they have to do to enact their master plan. 

One of the most excellent anti-villain examples is Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. He and Dumbeldore were lovers bound together by a mission to defy the International Statute of Secrecy and lead a benevolent dictatorship over the muggle world. 

However, Grindewald is prepared to carry out this mission at any cost, including murder and manipulation: his motto is "For the Greater Good." Before the Fantastic Beasts series events, Dumbeldore becomes disillusioned with this mission and abandons Grindelwald, believing the ends are not worth the means.  

The Wizarding World fails to confront Grindelwald, and soon Dumbeldore - Grindewald's former lover - is the only person who can take him on despite his reservations due to his previous closeness to Grindelwald. 

Mads Mikkelsen as Grindelwald in "The Secret's of Dumbledore."
It could be argued that Grindelwald in The Secrets of Dumbledore is a classic anti-villain since his motives in some ways are benevolent but he doesn't care about who he kills or manipulates to get there.

While Grindelwald is on the wrong path and is a villain, he still has charming qualities: he must be defeated, but we are torn about him to an extent. 

In terms of an anti-hero vs. villain, anti-villains are not to be confused with anti-heroes like Lisbeth Salander from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - a hero we love to hate who has flawed characteristics but who we sympathize with. We want her to succeed on her mission and understand that she will change throughout the story arc. 

Since we sympathize with anti-villains, they lend themselves to prequels where we can attempt to understand where and what caused them to veer off the road. 

Tropes associated with an anti-villain 

There are many tropes associated with anti-villains that you might recognize and can include in your own writing. 

1. The well-intentioned villain 

Grindelwald is an example of a well-intentioned villain. His goals seem plausible, and they are motivated by wanting to create a better world. However, they employ evil means such as sacrificing innocent victims to pursue the vision.

Well-intentioned villains are characterized by their inability to listen to reason, failure to compromise, and frustration when their plan doesn't come together. Often the hero must talk the villain down when it becomes clear that their plan is not working out.

Another great example is DCI Ian Reed in Luther. He is an ordinary team member for most of series one but soon falls off the wagon and becomes involved in corruption when he allows a robbery in exchange for payment. Luther attempts to talk him down, but his frantic nature leads him to kill Luther's wife, Zoe, a point from which he cannot return. 

2. The noble villain 

The opposite of a well-intentioned villain is a villain who is ill-motivated but changes their mind at the very last moment realizing the benefits of doing the right thing.

Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter is the perfect example. He and his family flirt with the dark arts and the death eaters for most of the series. He is the nemesis of Harry Potter at school and a secondary villain. 

Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter.
Draco is an antagonist for most of the Harry Potter series, but when he can't bring himself to kill Dumbledore, we realize he's much more complex than a simple villain.

However, in Half-Blood Prince, Malfoy cannot bring himself to kill Dumbledore, realizing the implications of the decision and becoming sidelined by Voldemort. 

3. Villain by name, not by nature 

In Kick-Ass, we see Dave Lizewski adopt the name "Kick-Ass" to take down the city's crime lords. His nemesis is Red Mist, who is motivated by wanting the same viral fame that Kick-Ass achieves and is a villain only in respect of his father being the crime boss.

We see Red Mist as a generally kind-natured teenager with similar interests to Kick-Ass: Red Mist could easily have been the hero if the roles were reversed then. 

How to write a great anti-villain

If you want to write a great anti-villain, you need to consider what motivates your villain. Audiences want complex characters and not flat stock villains

To do this, start by considering the internal conflict that motivates a villain.  

Part of that process is understanding that characters can be ill-motivated by having a benevolent agenda and vice-versa.

Consider the traits that make your hero a hero. Why are they likable? And what choices have they made that have led them to the journey they find themselves in at the start of the plot? 

Now flip this and ask yourself how your hero might have turned out if they had made bad choices or if they'd had a difficult childhood. This should form the basis for your anti-villain.  

Planning your anti-villain character arc

As always, plan your characters before you sit down to write your first draft by constructing character arcs. Then, you can write down how you feel your characters will evolve at different plot points on paper. 

Alternatively, you can use Arc Studio Pro to plot your character arcs, and since the tools you need are integrated, you don't need to worry about having tons of different documents at once. 

Characters and plot go hand-in-hand, so if you're struggling with your characters, you can use a structure like Save The Cat to assist you. 

Write your best anti-villain today 

If you're struggling, be sure to take inspiration from others films and TV shows with anti-villains and explore what you like about them and how you can adapt them for your own purposes.

Remember, excellent writing takes practice. Don't forget to write every day. Check out some of our productivity tips here!

Best of luck from the Arc Studio team! 

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What Is an Anti-villain?
Harry Verity

Harry is a professional writer. His first novel The Talk Show was published in the U.S and the U.K by Bloodhound Books in 2021 and he is currently working on adapting it for screen. He's also written for Media Magazine - a UK magazine for students of A-level Film, Media and Television Studies. In addition, he was a senior ghostwriter at Story Terrace from 2015- 2021, the private memoir firm.

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David Wain

For decades I've been searching for a seamless screenwriting app and and everything has come up way short – until Arc Studio. Writing and collaborating is easier than ever and it gets better every week. Well done!

David Wain
Writer/Director "Role Models"