Updated: August 19, 2015
BATMAN VILLAINS PHOTO GALLERY #11
The role of a arc villain:
Look at it from their perspective: The villain is the hero of his or her own story. Take Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction. Alex Forrest didn't consider herself to be a bad person. She was a person who felt she had been wronged, and wasn't going to take it lying down.
Just like a heroine, she had a goal in mind: Exact justice on Dan Gallagher (played by Michael Douglas). We'd call it revenge, but to her, it was justice. She had motivation driving her toward that goal, and obstacles to overcome in pursuit of it. So why shouldn't she get a character arc too?
She should, and here are four good reasons why giving your villain a character arc helps your story:
Believability and drama A villain who feels like a one-dimensional stereotype isn't particularly believable. Real people are rarely so simple. If you're doing a serial-killer thriller, say, but the whole of your villain's development is contained in the two word phrase "serial-killer," nobody's going to put much faith in him as a real person. His actions and motivations will be all too predictable, and consequently, there is no drama.
A believable person is unpredictable. Unpredictability equals threat, which generates fear (both for the arc hero and for the reader and or viewer), which increases the whole sense of drama. Depth If adding one character arc for your hero gives your plot more depth, then surely adding a second arc for the villain will give your story even greater depth, right? In fact, yes, and that's really all there is to say about that.
Message and meaning Giving the villain an arc, with its attendant set of credible, carefully considered beliefs and motivations, gives you an opportunity to play with the similarities and differences between your hero and your villain. That, in turn, creates a perfect opportunity to give your book a deeper message and meaning beyond what's in the plot. Sure, giving your villain any random character arc at all will still help your over view. But why be random when you can be smart?
If you're clever about what arc you give the villain, you can a wonderful possibility for playing the two arcs off of each other. By relating both the hero's and villain's arcs to the same underlying facet of the human condition, you can examine that facet from multiple points of view. You allow the idea to present a nuanced consideration of tolerance or responsibility or suffering or whatever common element you choose.