Eight Rules Wrestling Can Teach You About Villains

Status: Finished

Eight Rules Wrestling Can Teach You About Villains

Status: Finished

Eight Rules Wrestling Can Teach You About Villains

Article by: SolN


Genre: Other

Content Summary

Villains? WWE figured it all out. I’ll share their secrets with you in this article. I’ll target fantasy fiction here, but most of this applies to your genre too. Yes, even romance and even man-vs-nature. Read the rest of this article at your own risk.

Content Summary

Villains? WWE figured it all out. I’ll share their secrets with you in this article. I’ll target fantasy fiction here, but most of this applies to your genre too. Yes, even romance and even man-vs-nature. Read the rest of this article at your own risk.


Submitted: August 17, 2015

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Submitted: August 17, 2015



K.Hippolite from TheNextBigWriter wrote a fantastic article using WWE wrestling to illuminate some of the key aspects of a dastardly villain. He graciously agreed to let me post it below. The article was written about fantasy fiction writing, but it can be applied more broadly to almost any genre.

Villains? WWE figured it all out. I’ll share their secrets with you in this article. I’ll target fantasy fiction here, but most of this applies to your genre too. Yes, even romance and even man-vs-nature. Read the rest of this article at your own risk.

1. A villain should always win the first round. Decisively.

This is the fundamental rule of how wrestling rivalries start. The face (that’s the good guy) is minding his own business, and he gets attacked by the heel (the villain). The villain beats the snot out of the face. The crowd boos because the guy they liked didn’t just get beaten up, he got his ass kicked.

In the first encounter, the hero should not win. If the hero wins, there is no rivalry. In wrestling terms, if the face wins round one, there is no story.

Luke vs Vader
“Ha ha! I just hacked off your arm and beat you over the head with it. I'm so tired of winning, I kind of want you to escape so you're more of a challenge at some later time.” (But Vader breaks rules 2 and 8, so he doesn't count as a proper villain).

GI Joe vs. Cobra and the Pyramid of Darkness
Cobra wins the first three rounds of that fight. They lock Snake-Eyes behind that glass-panel, and the Joes have to leave him to die because they're getting whooped and they have no other options. When that series came out, were you sitting on the edge of your seat thinking "Shoot! Is Cobra actually winning?"

Corollary of rule #1

A true villain provokes some loss or suffering to the hero as a result of that first encounter. Whether it be a detached limb, or kidnapping the parents (Conan), or stealing the hero's colours (Rainbow Brite), the villain needs to not just be a generic villain, but they need to make the fight personal as quickly as they can.

Any wrestler can charge down the ramp, beat someone up, and become a bad guy. But to truly be a heel, you have to earn it. On that first encounter, you embarrass the hero. You hit him with his own belt. You steal a win he’s worked hard to earn or prevent him from making a pinfall. Cost the hero something and make yourself worthy of him coming after you.

2. The villain should always outnumber the hero.

There is no fair fight for villains. If at any time the number of good guys and bad guys is equal, the bad guys must flee. In wrestling this is a non-issue: when two heels are beating a face, they both get out of the ring if even one more face appears. Have you been ignoring this?

Darth Maul, I’m calling you out
You fought a master Jedi and his minion when you, yourself, were only an apprentice. You struggled valiantly, but they teamed up and overwhelmed you. How did you hope to emerge from that scene being the bad guy? Did you think no one would cheer for you?

3. Camera-shy villains need not apply

If he lacks a maniacal laugh, then gloating and a few words of self-fulfilment and/or satisfaction will suffice. It's perfectly fine if the villain is so prevalent that the audience wants the hero to kill him just to get him off the screen. That only makes the villain so much more hated when he escapes.

Long is the list of wrestling villains we hate just because they exist. Vicky Guerrero and Eric Bischoff. Neither of them can wrestle worth squat, but it doesn’t matter. They know how to work every second of the spotlight.

Got this on-screen thing right. Every 15 minutes he seems to have his giant eye filling the screen so he can stare at Frodo. Sauron's big mistake I'd say, is not gloating. At the end, I didn't care much whether he met just retribution. Had they deleted him from the third movie, I might not have noticed. Sauron gets an F on his report card for this.

4. The villain should always have the upper hand

In wrestling, the bad guy is allowed to use the chair to bash his opponent while the ref is distracted by the villain's friends (See Rule #2). Chairs, ring-rope-strangulation, thumb-to-the-eye, spitting sand in opponent's face.... heels get it all.

In a story, villains should hold all the aces. They should have superior weaponry, more troops, more allies, more chutz-pah, and better coffee-makers. The hero gets to be an uneducated moisture farmer, going in bare-fisted. If it's a thinking hero (eg Sherlock Holmes) the villain should be smarter than the MC. If that's just not possible (eg Batman/Joker) the villain should be able to easily confound the hero.

If the villain, for any reason, is not a sufficient challenge to keep the hero busy, rather than bring in story arcs to kill time, wrestling logic says that the villain is actually an underling for yet another villain, who is even more powerful and can get the job done. In this case, the story must go lose-win-win for the hero as quickly as possible to bring about the real rivalry. Every episode of WWE that the heroes don’t face sufficient challenges will bleed ratings.

Don't lose that thought. It's probably the single most important item I say in this article. Every episode of WWE that the heroes don’t face sufficient challenges will bleed ratings.

5. Villains should never win fairly

The villain may be capable of winning fairly since he outguns the hero (see Rule #4), however he should still cheat if he can. If the villain wins cleanly, he risks being liked.

Villains have a moral obligation to take short cuts. It’s been a long match, and both wrestlers are tired. They fought an epic fight, and the crowd is roaring in approval. Be careful here... the villain looks wonderful now. He looks great because the hero looks great. At the moment the tables turn and the hero is about to win, the villain now becomes the underdog. It’s your job as a writer to make sure the reader doesn’t switch sides to stay with the new underdog.

How? The hero’s finally cornered the villain. Villain drops to his knees begging for mercy. Hero pauses and looks at the crowd. Should I give this lame guy mercy? Crowd’s yelling he’s faking. Hero’s distracted. WHAM! punch to the groin and the hero goes down.

Yoda vs Palpatine
(Star Wars Episode 3.) Clean villain win. Yoda crawls off and hides for the rest of his life. I dunno about you but about halfway through the fight, I didn’t overly care who won. Palpatine wasn’t evil enough that I wanted him to lose, and Yoda wasn’t good enough that I wanted him to win. If your hero is as lacklustre as Yoda, your villain’s job is that much harder. I don’t envy you. The fix for this is for Palpatine to win by chicanery to provoke a sense of outrage.

Corollary of rule #5

Villains don’t surrender unless that surrender is part of a greater scheme. If that scheme occurs in a different book, it means that this book is technically without a true villain. In such a case, you must have a second villain in this book who will complete the task of being defeated.

Remember, the last thing you want is to have an ending with no bang... and ending where no objectives were attained, and it’s just to be continued. If you don’t believe me, go back and rewatch Pirates of the Caribbean II. What they do in this ending is what you want to not be doing.

6. Villain teams can break up, but the hero should still beat at least one of them

Whoever said a room of evil people can work together indefinitely? Sure villains can get mad at each other and storm off. But they should never defeat themselves.

Frodo vs Gollum at the volcano
Consider the main difference between the books and the movie regarding the final destruction of the ring. I think the movie got it right. The book was more artsy-fartsy, but underwhelming. If that was the ending as it was meant to be, and if everything the hero did was pointless, could they print that on the movie poster so I know not to watch?

I mean imagine I wrote a story where “Once upon a time, Bob was hunting a dragon to get revenge for it burning his home. He travelled and fought and had epic quests and the dragon slipped on a banana peel left out by one of its minions. It broke its neck and died before Bob could kill it. All was right in the world. The End.”

Please don’t throw rocks at me for this story. If you know who Frodo is, that’s exactly the story you read, just with more variables so you wouldn’t notice it. Evil defeated itself while the good guys watched. Pardon me while I burst into tears.

Prometheus (the Movie)
You mean to tell me a bad guy I didn't care about got beaten by another bad guy I didn't expect to meet? Did you pay to see that ending? I feel sorry for you.

Large wrestling factions implode. Heroes pick the most dangerous remainder and beat that part up. It’s fine if some of the heels turn face and start spin-off rivalries with their former villain buddies. This is what sequels are made of.

Remember the NWO? Remember the wrestler that finally defeated them? Me neither. Don’t let this happen to you. Your hero doesn’t need to win every battle... or even the final battle. But he should win something in the story. That’s what villains are for – to put over the hero by losing to them at one or more key points in the story.

7. Three cheers for the motivated villain.

(Replaced Megatron in the transformers cartoon) At several points in the story, Galvatron finds his path too difficult. Naturally, he tries to give up. Unicron steps in with those funny coloured lights and forces him to soldier on. I wish I was old enough, when that came out, to write a terse letter to the effect of: "Dear Transformer-writers. Your villain is not interested in this fight. Another villain has to force him to be interested. That makes him a minion. Having a minion as the main villain SUCKS almost as much as having Rodimus Prime whine about having to be awesome. I hereby request you buy the rights to a real villain like Mum-Rah from Thunder Cats. Thank you. Signed annoyed fan."

Motivation is easy in wrestling. “Heels want to beat up faces” is a popular tangent. Heels want the title belt is a common secondary goal (though it’s unclear why, since winning the title will bring thousands of drooling fans which the heel will proceed to hate).

In your story, you’re going to have to dig deeper, because no one wants to read about a villain who’s just a villain these days. It becomes important now to answer “why is this guy a villain?” Greed by itself doesn’t cut it anymore. You need to back-fill the greed with an impoverished childhood. Is he angry? Make sure the villain’s pet cat died indirectly at the hero’s hands.

Wrestling can’t help you decide why your villain is motivated, but it can still help you make sure your villain stays motivated. Show me just one wrestling villain who didn’t overly care about winning... who let the good guy win because he had better things to do.

No... an unmotivated villain makes me unmotivated to be entertained. Remember Roy Baty (the antagonist from Blade Runner)? Did he have that spectacular climax only to get bored and power himself down at the end? What kinda villain kills himself out of boredom? Endings like this make me want to stab my eyes out with a fork.

8. A villain should not be capable of empathy

It’s perfectly fine if the villain likes flowers or pretty things. It’s fine if he sees a baby kitten and cries. If anything, the villain who consistently mistreats his lackeys is getting a little tired.

That said... there is no room for a villain to feel empathy for a hero. If he does, he is the real hero and the other hero is just a stand-in substitute hero.

Wait, what?

Darth Vader fails as a villain. He felt too much empathy for his son. But don’t worry... that story had a proper villain who was prepared to handle the job of villaining.

Captain Hook
(I’m going by the original story, not the Disney version or the Terry Brooks hack). He eventually managed to get the "hooks" into Peter Pan, and he felt a pang of guilt. But it’s important that he overcame that empathy and kept fighting. Had he quit on the spot, Peter Pan’s win would have been hollow.

All you villains who feel sorry for the hero and give up the fight, would you please raise your hands? Yes? Ok... there’s the exit. We need space in here for real villains.


Wrestling taught me that real villains get defeated. They die heroically, or poetically, or they get whooped so bad they become a non-issue. In so doing, they validate the hero.

They exist in the story to maintain the rivalry while the hero maintains the pathos. If the rivalry can be considered to “why” of the story, the villain shoulders the burden of always being the answer.

Faced with such a crucial job, your villain can look to wrestling rules for success.

PS: At the time of writing, WWE’s main storyline of Undertaker vs Lesnar amounts to villain vs villain. This is also known as “total hero fail”. More to come in a future article.

© Copyright 2024 SolN. All rights reserved.

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