its-all-in-the-scarExcept it isn’t. In the previous article about describing what your protagonist looks like you might remember that I said you could use their appearance to tell a story because their life will have left marks on them whether it rough workman’s hands, being skinny from undernourishment, or having had some form of cosmetic surgery, The same is true of villains but there is an old cliché where villains in some way physically differ from what’s considered normal.

Once upon a time there was a belief stemming from The Church that a child with a deformity was a sign of some sin by the parents and the child was marked for life, the belief being that ‘twisted on the outside meant twisted on the inside’. This was put forward by some historians as a reason why Richard III was depicted with a hunchback after Henry Tudor overthrew him, because by giving him a hunchback it immediately marked him as evil. Another belief was that a child with some form of disability was a changling, a replacement left by faeries who had stolen the ‘real’ child, and therefore they were evil too. Once again, different, evil.

This view goes back further too, we only have to look at the classical myths to see that evil was depicted as ‘ugly’ and good was ‘handsome’. However, we argue that this is slightly different as evil tended to be monsters rather than ‘people’, or people who had been turned into ‘monsters’, for example Medusa. But it all builds into a general perception that different is bad.

Such notions persisted into modern fiction. Look at Bond villains who invariably had some form of scarring or deformity, or Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde where the upstanding doctor turns into the hideous Hyde. From that perspective the handsome villain was actually against type; we might say that in Mary Reilly, where Hyde became younger than Doctor Jekyll, the film was in some ways being subversive by not giving the monster Hyde a ‘monstrous’ appearance.

If you want to give your villain some scars then they need to earn their keep, not simply be there as a sign of who the villain is. Perhaps the villain was a soldier and got some scars fighting, or perhaps, like the new Blofeld, the villain becomes scarred because of something that happens in the story.

Your villain should be a villain because of their opposition to the protagonist, not because they have six fingers or a missing eye.


For more writing advice try my archive page.

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