If you know me, you know I love a villain. They're complex, dark, funny, horrible, scary, and sometimes come over to the light in the end—how could you not love such complicated and fun characters?

The idea of villainy was explored in today's SDCC panel, Antagonists, Villains, and Monsters, Oh My! Why do we love villains? What happens when you find yourself relating to a villain?

The panel featured USA Today bestselling author Rebekah Ganiere (Dead Awakenings), James Ganiere (Emmy-nominated director/producer), David Howard (writer, Galaxy Quest), Thomas Hobson (actor, Ghost of Ozarks, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and Gigi Edgley (actress, Farscape).

The panel started by setting a few distinctions. Antiheroes serve to make the hero change (think Loki), while villains might not make the hero arc at all. Monsters are in a separate category, and they exist to be fun and wreak havoc, like King Kong. Keep this in mind as you start crafting your characters.

Thanos-snap-infinity-warCredit: Marvel

Develop your villains

Rebekah Ganiere discussed character development.

She said you should write the villain as if they're the heroes of their own stories. The panelists talked about some key examples of this done well, like Megamind or Tate from American Horror Story.

"How many of us have looked at what Thanos wanted to do and thought, 'I could see that,'" Rebekah Ganiere said.

Hobson could address this from an acting perspective. During a production of Dream Girls while playing Curtis Taylor, Jr., he viewed the role of the record producer as if he was in the right, and the group was totally ungrateful.

Understanding the character's motivation is everything. The panel also brought up Breaking Bad's Walter White, who was just trying to make money to leave his family—but as a result, those motivations turned him into a drug kingpin and monster.

If your villain is weak, try to take a step back and see why. Is your villain inactive for several acts, episodes, or books? Are they only sending minions to do their dirty work? Well, they probably aren't a strong antagonist, then. They need to be just as active as the protagonist.

Breaking-bad-walter-white'Breaking Bad'Credit: AMC

Embrace contradictions

"It's such a rich environment when you're creating villains," Howard said, because you can throw out all the rules. He pointed to Hannibal Lector (a polite cannibal) and Anton Chigurh (who was fatalistic and moralistic) as examples.

Rebekah Ganiere piggybacked on the idea of contradictions. If you have a character who does horrible things but still experiences love (like Cersei Lannister), it makes them relatable.

You can let your villains be gentle, too. The panel kept going back to Thanos, who never really yelled and remained quiet.

The panelists also gushed over The Boys and Homelander, a character embodying the contradiction of a classic comic book hero who is actually a twisted, murdering psychopath.

There are too many TV shows, and its becoming a problem'The Boys'Credit: Prime Video

Use your villain to improve the hero

if you find your hero isn't reaching the height you want, James Ganiere said, then amplify your villain. Give the hero something to work against, or someone to challenge them in new and interesting ways.

And if it isn't working at all, consider reworking your villain too.

Howard revealed that his original draft of the sci-fi cult film Galaxy Quest actually featured Alan Rickman's character as the villain. A rewrite of the film changed this, obviously, and Howard said the film is stronger for it.

(Psst, fans—Howard also announced he's developing Galaxy Quest as a musical.)

What about redemption arcs?

One reason people (read: me) love villains is that they can sometimes be redeemed, or accidentally become so beloved by fans that they join the hero somehow.

James Ganiere said that the majority of scripts he reads are decent, but don't get excellent marks because only heroes fully arc or feel completely developed.

Rebekah Ganiere suggested making decisions about characters at the end of a project. By then, you really know them well and what would best serve them as a character. Would a redeemed villain end up bitter and unhappy in the end? Would they be better off sacrificing themselves for the plot? You know your characters better than anyone else. Pick the finale that suits them.


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