When I first typed “family matters” I did just mean, matters of the family. But to make it clear this post IS to be a post on villains and not just me waving and saying “Hi, so sorry I didn’t post yesterday but y’know, my excuses”, I adjusted what ‘matters’ I was using – this is to be a regular post, even if late. Sorry about that, by the way.
Family may not always matter to a villain. Maybe your villain doesn’t even have a family. Of course, there are many different things that can constitute a family in the first place, so to say your villain truly has no family is not so easy as it sounds. It’s more than just killing off the parents and flinging away siblings or extended family, having him remain unmarried and childless. If there’s a single person that matters to your villain, matters in a way your friend or brother or mother or spouse matters to you, your villain has family blood ties or no.
It’s no surprise my mind has been on a villain’s relationship with the hospital these past few weeks. I mean, being in a hospital will do that to you. (I am no longer there, by the way, but things aren’t back to normal for me quite yet.) Having a villain love someone, and be in a hospital, or have a loved one put in a hospital, is not unheard of. I instantly think of the Mayor and Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Buffy put Faith in the hospital, the Mayor visited her; it was to him as though Buffy had put his daughter there. But it doesn’t happen super often, either.
Not that one going to the hospital is a common occurrence (I should hope!), but there are lots of little things, and big things, that can happen. And it’s made me think. We are always concerned with the trials of our heroes. We should be. They’re (probably) the main characters, and therefore their trials are the interesting ones. A villain with smooth plans are the interesting ones and I’ve sat and said that a hero should never defeat a villain because of a mistake the villain made. But then, if all our characters are human – regardless of whether or not they are actually of human race – shouldn’t all of them be subject to human error? Things don’t go according to plan for the heroes, and that’s the way it should be. But sometimes, shouldn’t random error, not incompetency or thwarting of the heroes, but just crazy random happenstance…happen to villains?
One of the main scenarios I’ve – unsurprisingly – considered as of late is what an interesting twist it would be if we did have a male villain, all prepared to execute some sort of master plan, when all of a sudden a messenger arrives or his phone buzzes and his wife is letting him know her water broke. That’s a pretty “drop everything and rush my wife to the hospital” kind of event. Or midwife or…medibots or whatever fits your genre. Does that include your villain’s master plan? I don’t know, that depends on your villain. But it’s going to make things interesting. Even if the news doesn’t phase him and he just ignores it, he and his wife are probably going to have a “talk” later. And how might that affect the hero, especially if he or she didn’t know the enemy was a married man who apparently has a family now (and possibly before – there’s no reason it has to be kid #1)?
Contrariwise, I also have an amusing little comic in my head of a villain about to execute some horrible plan on the hero when HIS wife calls about her water breaking and politely excuses himself from their duel of destiny to go to her. Since the scene is definitely meant to be comedic, he is allowed to leave. But that’s still an element that could be interesting in a story because family matters.
What about a villain whose teenage child or best friend has a bad break-up? Or maybe even a top minion? How does your villain handle that? What about the small child that is afraid of monsters under his bed or in her closet? When the minions are supposed to be getting somewhere quick and get caught in traffic, or held up by an accident? Not IN an accident, just there was one and now the streets are blocked off. You still can’t let these things allow the hero to win, not generally I don’t think. But life happens to everyone, and the frustrations of life, how we handle them, is part of how we show our personalities and our humanities, what kind of person we really are. Certainly it’s not appropriate for every story, and it’s not even a novel idea, but I think it’s badly underutilized. Villains are people, too – the curveballs of life might give them a great chance to show it.