In crafting a villain’s backstory, we often want the
origin to be as powerful as the character themselves. As Chris Colfe says, “A
villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”
Unfortunately, however, tragic backstories become tedious. Oh,
of course their parents were eaten alive in front of them, their home was foreclosed
on by a corrupt institution, the love of their life betrayed them, their
favorite TV show was canceled, and they couldn’t get the last scrap of mayonnaise
out of the jar. Someone get the fainting couch, quick.
At a certain point, it’s no longer a backstory – it’s a sob
story, which quickly transforms our empathy into pity, and finally into boredom.
We roll our eyes and wish the villain had kept the melodrama to themselves.
On the other side of that coin, having a character who
stomps on bunnies for no reason isn’t exactly relatable, and a well-rounded
character can’t just burst into existence one day fully formed. Everyone has a
So how can you give your villain a backstory that tugs on
readers’ heartstrings, without making it a sob story?
For this, we’re going to use Epic of Lilith as an example once again
to Make Your Villain Domestic but Still Evil), as well as Megamind briefly.
Some of these tips can also be applied to heroes, but we’ll stay
villain-centric for now.