I have a confession to make: the power of redemption enslaves me.
While I once suffered from cardboard villains with no motivation other than thwarting my hero and heroine (one was named Captain Plunder, I kid you not), I have now swung completely in the other direction. Now, my villains have a tendency to get too interesting. So interesting, they keep demanding their own books. Thus far, three so-called villains are slotted for their own stories of redemption, self-discovery, and love.
Usually, this isn’t a problem. The issue, though, is that I know the path my series is going to take, and there’s no more room for new and suddenly interesting characters … even though I’m in the process of creating a new villain right now. He will be interesting. I will torture him. And yes, my inclination is to “save” him, but after what he will do, this cannot be possible.
So, I have determined he must die or be punished. Now I’m just trying to come up with the reasons why (because he’s darned well not getting his own book!). Together, hopefully we can both decide when a villain needs to suffer and be punished for his sins.
1) His sins have been too great and too many. This is plausible enough. But these sins need to be truly great, placing him beyond redemption. I already have one pseudo-villain who plotted to destroy the mortal plain, and she’s redeemable (based on the fact she was crazy and didn’t really mean it). Another two who sought to assassinate my heroine, and they get to fall in love (they were pawns of this uber-villain, so it wasn’t really their fault). What does this mean? It means the sins of this villain need to be so great the only redemption can be through traditional literary means: fire, water, sacrifice, and/or death. What he does needs to be unforgiveable.
2) He wouldn’t really want his own book anyway. Admittedly, I’m reaching. But I think for this villain, he isn’t “hero material.” He doesn’t play by the same rules, does not desire a happy ending in which everyone wins, but only wants one in which he wins, everyone else loses. This is not a happy ending, and grounds for punishment.
3) His death or punishment can bring about the redemption or salvation of one of the protagonists. If placed in a situation where it’s life or death for only one of the characters, either villain or hero, my hero has to win. Therefore, the villain has to die.
4) The villain’s personal desire for death and punishment as redemption. This has potential. It means I can still save my villain, but he has an arch of personal growth rather than simply growing madness or “evil.”
5) The villain’s motives and convictions are too strong, he will never accept defeat. It has never occurred to him, and when it does, he refuses to accept it. He can’t be redeemed because until the end, he never believes he’s done anything wrong. What he did was the only thing possible, and is still the right decision, no matter the consequences. He cannot go back to the way things were. In this situation, he may well take his own life to avoid accepting defeat, or being returned to the status quo.
6) At the end of the war or great battle (as my series concludes with), someone has to be blamed for what happened. A scapegoat is required, whether deservedly or not. My villain really is responsible for the war, though of course, it takes two to have a fight. Nonetheless, could a reader be satisfied with a war which ends with no one being punished? Though war and its consequences may be punishment enough, historically someone is usually “blamed.”
7) His very villainy leads to his death. This is like Gollum at the end of Lord of the Rings, when his last grasping effort to gain the ring results in his death, though Frodo’s salvation. This demands a path where the villain does increase in desperation or villainy on a path which can only lead to his destruction.
8) The villain and his sins are symptomatic of every “evil” or “bad-guy” in the real world which goes free, but which in fiction may finally be punished for his sins. In this situation, readers would only be satisfied with punishment of the villain, the most thorough usually being death.
9) Someone has to be punished. If everyone else escapes or is redeemed – including all the other villains or heroes with less than perfect slates – then doesn’t someone need to be punished? Should someone be the scapegoat for all their sins? Symbol of punishment, and in his sacrifice redeem the others?
10) The problem is solved once and for all. If the villain dies, whatever problems he caused or actions which made him the villain are punished and are supposedly eradicated with the death of their puppet. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but it could be. If the villain who wants to take over the world is killed, HE can’t try to take over the world again if he’s dead (though this says nothing for the legion of would-be-villains waiting to fill his shoes).
Well, fine then. I guess I have to kill my villain. Am I convinced? Not entirely. Like I say, I’ve become a slave to redemption. Why do you kill off your villains? Do you have better reasons why a villain needs to die or can’t be redeemed than I’ve provided? Please, share, and help me understand and accept the death of my villain.