Villainry on a Budget

Hey, guys, my tablet’s been broken for a couple weeks now and I’m still waiting for it to get back. It ended up breaking the same way as my computer, shut off and wouldn’t turn back on! Since it was brand new, I could mail it back to the manufacturers (they even paid for my shipping) but it’s taking friggun forever to get back. Turns out the shutting off thing is actually a known issue with the tablet, in case you were wondering what I’ve been doing with my computers. It’s not me!

My panicks about not having a computer because I don’t have money for a new one (and various other factors) brought to my husband’s mind how villains always seem to have a lot of resources. While it’s true that that makes sense, seeing as how someone who wants to villain who has resources would better be able to do it, the thought of a poor villain who must be frugal is highly amusing. It’d be a nice change from throwaway resource villains.

They broke my robot? Ehhh I’m a billionaire. I’ll just make 20 more. (Xanatos, Gargoyles)

Honestly, it’d still be amusing if the villain was rich but miserly. But consider an actually poor villain.

“Do you know how expensive that hired hand was? Now I’m not getting my deposit back!”
“Argh, you just blew a hole in my wall! I can’t afford to get that repaired! Winter is gonna suuuuck!”
“MY DEATH RAY! I spent years saving up for all those parts!”

The thing about the concept that I found so intriguing wasn’t the humor in it, however. It’s that again, villains have resources because in order to villain, they need resources. So someone who doesn’t actually have any would have to be truly determined in order to present themselves as an actual threat. Especially if they didn’t have just one financial issue that turned out not to be a financial issue.

How the hey did they build a rocket from just crap around the hou-you know, it’s a kid’s movie in which the rocket took a few hours to get to the moon and back, I just don’t care. (Despicable Me)

Monetary issues suck, and for myself, I feel like they’re the stupidest problem to have. I mean, I can’t do things because of this arbitrary rule of value our society produced? Seriously? People are starving and losing their homes because of money? It’s just…it’s just such a stupid thing. Shouldn’t you only lose your house if it like, blows up or catches fire or a gosh-darn hurricane sucks it up? But that’s the world we live in. And if you don’t have enough money, then sucks to be you.

And yet, how often do characters have financial issues? And again, I totally get it – it’s the Chosen One thing, where of course the story is about the Chosen One, no matter how cliche, because the Chosen One is the guy all the cool stuff happens to. Or like in a video game where it’s so much easier if we ignore monies where it’d be more convenient to ignore monies than count them. It’s a combination of the richer people get to do the cool things, because they have the means, and it’s obnoxious to worry about it.

But you know, I am pretty sure I don’t actually know anyone with a lot of money. Heck, I don’t even know many people with a decent amount of money. And if you’re aiming to sell a book or whatever to a person like me, and you want me to relate to it, I can relate to not having money. I can relate to receiving an unexpected bill in the mail and staring exasperatedly at it for an hour while re-arranging our entire budget around dealing with it. I can relate to wanting to buy something, holding off and holding off, saving for it, feeling like it’s always out of reach. And I know I’m not the only one. So…maybe there’s something to giving characters the attribute of being poor, of conflicts centering around not having money and figuring something else out. And not in the cutesy, let’s have a bake sale and just get money because you know what? Sometimes – usually – you can’t just get money. Besides, having a financial need and then doing something once and filling the apparent one-time need isn’t what I’m talking about. That’s actually done all the time, especially with hospital bills.

And with good reason. Freaking broken American healthcare. I too feel its sting for daring to propagate the human race.

I’m talking about a lifestyle, one where eating out at a freaking fast food restaurant is a once-in-a-long-while treat, the way eating out at a nice place is a treat for someone of moderate means. I’m talking about living paycheck to paycheck, about realizing maybe food stamps are an option. About freaking out over major illness or serious injuries, not because of the illness or injury itself but because how much it costs to treat those things.

Characters of means are more convenient to write and probably are more likely to be the stars of the story anyway because they can do things. But characters of little means mean more to real people of little means. So consider a villain who’s on a budget. For some it will be easier – if you’re writing something like YA, that’s easy enough because the villain may well be another kid and they all don’t have money unless you’re playing Earthbound or something. (On my save file, Ness currently has more money in his bank than I’ve seen in my life.) If you’re writing a superhero story, I think a poor villain is super intriguing – there are poor superheroes, after all. But it would also be a lot harder.

There’s certainly no Thriftman possible when superpowers are replaced with cool gadgets. But it’s also not impossible to be a poor superhero.

Obviously, as a challenge to write, it’s not something that’s appropriate for just any character in any situation. But I think it’s something worth thinking about. Just as much as a story is a dream of something amazing and desirable, it’s a reflection of real life. And boy are money troubles a reflection of real life.


About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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4 Responses to Villainry on a Budget

  1. Rebekah says:

    Very valid points, but perhaps such a book would be very relatable while not being very enjoyable. I read often as an escape mechanism, I want to not worry about my troubles for a while. Reading about someone in a similar situation would not be enjoyable when I’m wrapped up in my worries


    • While escapism is very commonly the reason for reading, and a poor villain in a book that’s not about escapism would probably result in something like Crime and Punishment (which I didn’t really enjoy myself), I don’t think it automatically follows that familiar worries and concerns make the book less enjoyable. There are many examples to the contrary, and relatable conflict can mean more tension. I think it’s very much so dependant on who is having the trial, how prevalent it is in the story, and how the trial unfolds, how the book handles it. Especially if it was the villain “enjoying” a financial burden, I’m not sure it would be as stressful on the reader, since even if you love them, you usually still want them to lose. In any case, I think the notion is for careful consideration, rather than always being ignored, financial security assumed.


  2. Caroline says:

    LOLing at the idea of a villain holding a bake sale to raise funds for the Army of Imminent Doom.


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