Villains of Visionary Fiction

By Eleni Papanou

Visionary Fiction villains are my favorite of all villains because they have a chance to evolve beyond their fiendish personalities. What sets apart visionary fiction from other genres is  good and evil are seen as acts rather than the core of a person’s existence. In other words, even villains can evolve.

Since Star Wars is so popular, it’s the perfect story example to use in this post. It also allows readers not familiar with the genre to better understand what sets apart visionary fiction from other genres.

One of the most well-known villains of visionary fiction is Darth Vader. We hated him when he destroyed Princess Leia’s home world and forgave him when he turned his lightsaber against the emperor to save his son. Why did we overlook Darth Vader’s sins?

 He  evolved…

We watched Darth Vader defeat his dark nature and embrace the light. It’s a very common archetypal theme in mythology that Lucas drew upon using Joseph Campbell’s template of the hero’s journey.

 I create my own villains using a similar template, although they don’t always end up embracing the light. I love to explore the interior struggle of a villain. There’s a reason why they do what they do, and I flesh out my antagonists as intensely as I do my protagonists.

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In Unison,  my first book in the Spheral Series, Master Kai is  seduced by ambition; however, there’s an obvious ambivalence he demonstrates throughout the book. I indicate this by how he relates to Damon, the protagonist.

 “We can’t escape history, anymore than we can recapture it.” Master Kai” 

 The above quote sums up Master Kai’s internal struggle. His mentioning that we can’t escape history demonstrates some disappointment with the status quo. Nevertheless, he’s a high political figure in Unity, an isolated dome city in post-apocalyptic Earth. He enjoys his status and relishes his power.

 What makes an effective villain in visionary fiction? The following is my list of the ideal villain. Of course this is just my personal preference.

  • Some cross-road event that makes them stray, either shown or implied through action or narrative.
  • Interior struggle, like the hero, and it should be present in the story. If the struggle is similar in nature,  it adds  more dramatic tension between the two archetypes. In Star Wars, both Luke and Darth Vader battle against  their dark nature as they battle each other.
  • Some trait or characteristic the hero and villain both share.  Both Luke and Darth Vader, when he was Anikan, were Jedi Knights.

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Not all visionary fiction requires a villain. The strongest antagonist can also be the protagonist…even in action based stories where a character fulfills that archetypal role. There are two struggles going on with Luke Skywalker. His exterior journey focuses on him fighting his father and the empire. His interior struggle is first seen when he doesn’t want to leave his home to save Princess Leia with Obi-Wan Kenobi. Later, we see more of this self-doubt during his training as a Jedi Knight by Yoda.

While interior struggles are found across many genres, in visionary fiction the characters also go through an evolution of consciousness. In Star Wars, both villain and hero transcend evil and embrace the light. That’s what makes the last episode of Star Wars satisfying. We get a happy ending, along with the emotional impact of watching two characters who started out on different paths arrive at the same destination. It  resonates with our own desire for humanity to come together and embrace the light. It’s visionary stories like this that make us see that it’s a possibility.


Eleni Papanou is the author of Unison, Book One of  the science fiction epic, The Spheral.

Visit the Philophrosyne Publishing  website for updates and information.

Philophrosyne Publishing aims to produce dogma-free books that expand the mind, while entertaining and uplifting the spirit.

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11 Responses to Villains of Visionary Fiction

  1. I enjoyed your description of how VF villains 'evolve', and I agree they can. Just as the protagonist has their transformational arc, the villain may have one, too, I imagine we VF authors could debate whose potential evolution is more important or impactful for a reader – villain or protagonist. What does everyone think?

    I, too, fleshed out how my antagonist/villain in Carry on the Flame grew into her apparently evil ways. Her character wasn't black vs. white, although most of her actions made it seem so.

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  2. What a great topic, and I really enjoyed learning your insights, Eleni. I confess I never gave my own main villain the same depth of character – but then, he was more representative of an institute than anything else.

    Jodine, you have asked an interesting question on the significance of the villain vs protagonist. I suspect that the answer may depend on the individual, whether reader or writer. It could be a subject for exploration. Definitely.

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Hi Saleena:

      I'm glad you brought this up as I thought about your book while writing the article. Even in Star Wars, you can say the Empire plays a similar role. Institutions that take on antagonistic characteristics are also represented in many dystopian and Libertarian novels. The latter is another genre I recently discovered and fits well with my series. I think this would be an interesting angle to focus a blog post on. Something you might want to consider.

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  3. Hi Eleni. I love this line of your post: "..our own desire for humanity to come together and embrace the light." As a visionary writer, I never give up on the dream/desire for humaniity to come together and embrace the light. Your use of STAR WARS to demonstrate what sets visionary fiction apart from other fiction (especially in the case of the villain) works well. I'm looking forward to reading UNISON. Just downloaded it onto my Kindle. And, again, I LOVE THE COVER!

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    • Admin - Eleni says:

      Since learning about this genre, I'm noticing many sci-fi stories fit the mold of VF. I'm glad you like the cover. The artist captured the essence of my book well.

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  4. PJ Swanwick says:

    Great article, Eleni. I never considered Star Wars as an example of visionary fiction components, but it fits perfectly. Thank you for sharing your insight – it will definitely inform my future work.

    P.S. Your article is also a very effective way to complement Unison's book launch; again, I hope to learn from your model.

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  5. Admin - Eleni says:

    It's amazing how much VF is out there. Star Wars demonstrates the potential of what this genre is capable of. Who doesn't want to be uplifted, especially during times like this. I'm glad to hear this article was helpful.

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  6. Admin - Eleni says:

    I don't think the evolution of one character archetype is more important than the other. I leave it up to the story to decide. And it's interesting you differentiate that it's your antagonist's actions that make her appear black and white, while underneath, there's something more complex going on. One of the main reasons I love my antagonists!

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  7. Sandy Nathan says:

    Hi, Eleni and all! What an interesting article! I'm in the middle of a write-a-thon; I'm rewriting the sequel to my first novel after it came back from my editor and I'm chugging away on two new novels. Your article got me thinking about my villains. I love villains. Books come alive when the villain shows up.

    Have I considered character development in my bad guys? Not really. In all three books noted above, the villain is the devil, ultimate evil. Not much room for transformation in ultimate evil. But what does my devil look like? He's a very handsome capitalist with headquarters in Spain. He is FUNNY, a rather odd attribute of such a nasty character. He also has absolutely no doubt about his right to do whatever he wants to anyone, which probably characterizes most of the world's real bad guys.

    That description also fits the real bad guys in my life. The people I have known who were/are truly evil don't contemplate their actions or reflect on what they've done. Mostly, they don't see themselves as capable of wrongdoing, no matter how much they hurt others. One person in this category played the same destructive games on her deathbed. Talk about unconscious and grandiose!

    I may have known a particularly venomous set of bad guys, but that''s how they were. The people who struggle for a better life often do so as a result of exposure to their toxic compatriots. So evil propels some people toward the light, creating enlightenment and growth in contrast to the motivating evil.

    Will I ever write a villain who suffers self-doubt and remorse? Who hopes to attain a better world and grow into what he/she was meant to be? I dunno. Not in this batch of books. However, the description above fits my HERO, who's a pretty nasty piece of business in the beginning.

    I was able to download your book for free! I had no idea it was on sale. That will be a fun treat! I love the cover, especially the lettering, which resembles Sanskrit or Hindi.

    All the best!

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  8. Admin - Eleni says:

    "So evil propels some people toward the light, creating enlightenment and growth in contrast to the motivating evil."

    This is so true. Whenever I'm hurt by someone, I usually introspect and emerge stronger. I tend to thank the difficult people in my life, for I would never have fought so hard to improve…and continue to improve myself.

    Regarding evil, I don't view it as an absolute, which is why my characters, while engaging in evil acts, aren't evil to the core. That isn't to say my bad guys get off or even evolve themselves. I suppose a part of me hopes they do, but the story doesn't always give me what I want;)

    Good luck with your new books. And you're working on two? I started one, then stopped to work on the sequel to Unison. It's great to be busy!

    Hope you enjoy the book!

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