Yesterday I read this post by ladyhadhafang
: In Defense of "Woobie Villains"
There are several interesting, thought-provoking points in the post and the comments, and, oh boy, did it inspire some heated debate. Interesting doesn't mean I agree with them. Here are my objections. The first is that the subjectivity of the word "sympathetic" makes the whole discussion meaningless, in my opinion. What we do or don't find sympathetic varies from person to person. It depends on who we are and how we see the world. There are people who can empathize and even sympathize with fictional characters/villains that you find completely unsympathetic. And no, these people don't necessarily have the same psychological disorder, when applicable, as the character. Some do, but most don't.
Also, the "sympathetic" villain, defined at the beginning of the post as one who has a backstory that allows the audience to understand his or her motivations, is rarely the target of the rants about "woobie villains". As for the "woobie", "cuddly" villains that people rant about, are they villains at all? No one thinks of themselves as evil
. True. Self-justification is almost universal. Everyone, including villains, has reasons for what they are doing. True again. But "reasons" can be as simple as "Because I want to". This may be a perfectly valid reason, but characters who are motivated by it tend to be considered one-dimensional. Why? Because they don't care about anyone or anything other than themselves? Isn't that fascinating in itself? Let's be honest with ourselves - don't most of us wish sometimes that we could be like that? Imagine how much easier life is for such people. So, what constitutes a reason for doing something, too, is subjective.
Finally, the post mentions empathy. But empathy is about you, the reader, not about the character. If you can't empathize with a character, it isn't because of the character, because they are constructed in such a way that empathizing with them is impossible. It's because your – everyone's – ability to empathize has limits. But these limits aren't the same for everyone. Otherwise no one
would be able to empathize with some characters – but that's not the case, contrarily to the claims of the author of Characters and Viewpoint
(a book full of abusive generalizations, of words like "nobody" and "always" and the assumption that every reader thinks alike). There are people who can empathize with the most "unsympathetic" villains that seem one-dimensional to other people. And while being able to empathize with the bad guys doesn't mean rooting for them, for any work of fiction, there are
people who can't relate to the good guys and who root for the bad ones. Such people exist. I know some.