The Anti-Villain (and what the heck that is)

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The Anti-Villain (and what the heck that is)

I loved a post last year in the Writer’s Digest blog titled “How to Create an Antihero That Readers Love.” It got me to thinking (a dangerous undertaking, according to my husband) about what the perfect anti-villain would be, and I immediately identified a classic example.

Did you say Severus Snape?

Oh yeah. You are right on.

Severus Snape is an antagonistic character in the epic Harry Potter series, no doubt about it. He and Harry are far from bosom buddies, and for good reason. Not only does Professor Snape think Harry is an arrogant ignoramus too much like his father, but even better, Severus once had a thing for Harry’s mum. Yeah…complicated.

SPOILER ALERT (I mean, seriously, if you haven’t read the whole HP series, why are you reading blogs about children’s writing…?): Severus is not the evil thing he’s made out to be, and his performance in the seventh book will simply break your heart.

Yeah, a good anti-villain does that. They are redeemable. You hate to love them, but in the end, you almost do.

So here, in no particular order, are four more anti-villain categories worth considering in any YA or MG novel…

  1. The parent/child conflict (Twisted). So yeah, we all fought with our parents at least a little in our formative years (if you didn’t, writing authentic young adult or middle grade fiction will be a challenge). One of my favorite representations of this conflict, with a very flawed parental character, is the father-son relationship in Laurie Halse Anderson’s In the novel, we do not like Tyler’s dad. No we do not. He behaves like a complete a**hole. He proves that any mom or dad can be as much a bad guy as any bully or evil government. But in the explosive ending, we see a shred of hope for the relationship and how the love of a parent toward a child will often keep him or her from being completely irredeemable.


  1. The evil government (The Legend trilogy). Since I brought up the concept of evil government, I might as well comment on it. I love the character of Elector Anden in Marie Lu’s Legend, Prodigy, and Champion. Anden is the son of the evil predecessor, and main character June has all the reason in the world to hate him. But even though he leads a corrupt government and is in direct opposition to the love-of-June’s-life—Day—you can’t hate the young ruler. Anden is compassionate and intelligent. And apparently hot. Very, very hot. This sets the reader up to be very conflicted about June’s opportunity within the Republic, as well her future with Day. Perfection.


  1. The bully (Catalyst). Okay, so I’m relying on another Laurie Halse Anderson for this one. In Catalyst, Kate Malone has “perfect girl” written all over her. She also doesn’t have much of a soft spot for Teri Litch, a girl with a definite chip on her shoulder. But as Kate’s life intertwines with Teri’s, we get a little better picture of who Teri is and why she’s like that, and—like so many well developed villains—we begin to With a growing friendship that was never meant to be, the relationship between Kate and this particular anti-villain makes the reader question whether there was a bad guy in the first place, or if misunderstandings are the root of all evil.


  1. And finally…drum roll…the not so bad bad guy who might just twist the plot on its head (Between Shades of Gray). Yep, I’ve talked about this book before, and I probably will again. It has so many elements that make it one of the most emotional rides I have ever taken. Ruta Sepetys’ portrayal of one of the brutal Russian guards, Nikolai Kretzsky, turns poignant when the reader is given glimpses of his internal struggle. His ultimate decision at the end of the story tells the best anti-villain story of all—if someone can be convinced of his or her own humanity, the fight for good can be won in that person’s own soul.


Well, I hope this gets you started on creating a perfect anti-villain in your cast of characters. I’ve definitely got some interesting personalities to chew on…

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