Do villains need a traumatic past, or should they simply be bad? These questions are currently hotly debated in our Linkedin group "Characters". Very early on in this long discussion thread, an American group member said that if you wanted a villain to be able to turn into a good guy, a past that negatively impacted on his personality would help. According to him, this kind of villain could see the error of his ways and change.
A true villain on the other hand, he said, needs to be relentness, callous,
and stop at nothing to achieve his aims in order to qualify as being truly evil.
These bogus reasons only heighten the menace he exudes, according to this group member. He went on to say that giving him a backstory would only have lessened his impact and he advocated to only give villains backstories, if they have real meaning.
A European IP developer agreed and said. "True evil is an absolute value that is needed to define goodness. True evil is unfathomable. When it is needed to tell a story, when it needs to be embodied, then I suppose a villain does not need to be relatable, he/she/it simply fulfills a function."
He went on to say, "Other than that I would be on the side of relatability, even if negative relatability, otherwise a villain can easily deteriorate into a cardboard cut out scarecrow". In response the American writer who posed the original question said, that he had once read that the audience needs to know that a villain is capable of anything.
This fascinating debate is still far from reaching a conclusion. Why not join in and tell us your thougths... here.