Here is a story idea:
A man in his late fifties, dressed conservatively in a tweed suit, is found travelling with a twelve-year-old girl. They have just flown in from the Middle East and have landed in New York. The passport identifies them as Mr and Mrs El-Amin. An officer at customs security, FBI Senior Special Agent Irene Javert, is aroused from her drowsy perch when she suspects foul play and stops the couple. The man claims that they are a happily married couple and that they are on a honeymoon. Agent Javert is not convinced and proceeds to question them separately, but the little girl collaborates the older man’s story. They both produce papers proving that they are legally married. Airport commissioner Benny Myriel tells Javert that there is nothing she can do about the couple but to let them through, but their nervous behavior betray that they are hiding something. She buys time to consult a child rights lawyer, who says that she can advise the couple that they cannot have sex, consensual or otherwise, on US soil legally, but there is no grounds to hold them if they have all the legal documents. Javert, taking on a deliberately rude attitude, warns the couple that they cannot have sex on American soil, hoping to provoke a violent response in order to find a reason to hold them longer, but they both agree without resistance. Javert, a passionate feminist, cannot shake the hunch that there is foul play involved. Against Myriel’s orders, she latches on to a technicality and arrests El-Amin for child trafficking. A Muslim child services organization is called. When Javert informs the little girl (Mrs. El-Amin) that she will soon be able to go home, she refuses strenuously against what Javert thought would be good news. She believes that the girl is afraid of El-Amin and assures her that the man will be in jail for a very long time, against which the child begins to curse at her. When it seems inevitable that she will be sent back home, the girl seeks political asylum in the US on the grounds that she would be jailed if she returned without her husband on what would amount to an unauthorized divorce. Javert is still fixated on her theory of child abuse and again consults the lawyer. The lawyer answers that although he cannot vouch for her safety in her home country, as long as she is still married to her husband on paper, she could theoretically defend herself against prosecution for illegal divorce. Once again, Javert tries to send the girl back on the next plane, but the assistant DA informs her that there is no case against El-Amin on the charges of child trafficking. Javert goes to the man and tells him that she is going to send the girl back to her country in the few days it takes for the case to be dismissed. El-Amin says that he will plead guilty for child trafficking if Javert will let the girl stay in America. Javert demands a written confession, which El-Amin proceeds to write. Javert once again talks to the girl, delivering what she believes to be good news. El-Amin has written a confession and will spend the rest of his life in jail, and that she can stay in the US. The little girl flies into a rage and attacks Javert. Javert leaves the room flustered, but is still convinced that she is doing the right thing and that the little girl will eventually thank her. The man from the Muslim child services arrives and informs El-Amin and Javert that the girl will be taken into custody. When the man asks a puzzled Javert whether the girl had been “purified”, El-Amin tears up his confession, says that it was written under duress and cannot be used. Javert has El-Amin tased and suppressed. Myriel gets wind of what is going on and demands an explanation. El-Amin claims that he had been forced to write a confession, but then says he will confess again if the girl will be handed over to a secular organization. An assistant arrives with the news that the little girl has confessed to being a terrorist. When Javert questions the girl, she explains that El-Amin is innocent and that he was her cover for entering the country. Javert asks if the girl would rather spend the rest of her life in prison as a terrorist than go home to her country. The girl answers yes. Javert again tries to explain away the girls actions according to her feminist beliefs. A Homeland Security agent confirms that El-Amin is not listed as a terrorist threat, but also expresses doubts about the girl’s story. Javert is still convinced that the girl is a victim and El-Amin is a perpetrator up to dirty tricks. Myriel suggests that they drop the case and let the couple pass. Desperate for a lead, Javert goes to El-Amin and falsely tells him that the girl had been loaded on a plane for home. The man breaks down and weeps. He curses Javert. Javert demands to know the truth but he steals Javert’s gun and shoots himself. Not understanding what is happening, Javert tells the girl what has happened. She does not believe her. Javert takes the girl to the dead man’s body, where she cries over him in genuine sorrow. She tells Javert that El-Amin was a trafficker who shipped out little girls trying to escape khifad, female genital mutilation. The girl, due to special circumstances, could not escape the country without marrying El-Amin. She truly loved him. After the confession, she swallows poison believing that her deportation was imminent. Javert had forgotten to tell her that it was a ruse. In a daze, Javert rummages through the evidence bag for her gun, points it at her temple and pulls the trigger, but the gun is empty. THE END.
I must be growing old. Ideas like this used to come to me twice a day. Now, I can only come up with an outline like this every few months.
I decided to share this one because I thought it illustrated my idea of a complex villain.
The villain, in this case, is Javert. She believes that she is on the good side, just like her namesake Inspector Javert from Les Miserables. I made her a feminist because feminism is based on good intentions. It is a belief system that is not meant to harm anyone. And of course she believes she is doing good. By all appearances El-Amin is either a pedophile or a child trafficker. She is blinded only because she cannot drop the “male-bad, female-good” paradigm. She is fixated on being good, which, in this circumstance, makes her bad.
Christopher Nolan wrote the line “You either die a hero, or live to see yourself become villain.”
You can have a Darth Vader type villain, an archetypal baddie from start to finish, and it would serve most purposes quite well. But a complex villain must turn bad without being conscious of it.
Javert in the above example starts out as a pencil-pushing bureaucrat, peaks into a cop with a hunch, then an increasingly fixated ideologue, and ultimately comes to a devastating realization and a finished career. She does not start out as Darth Vader. She eases into the role of the destroyer. If executed properly, the reader should root for her in the beginning of the story and scream for her to stop what she is doing as the story progresses. If it is executed very well, the reader should feel schizophrenic through a large portion of the story, not knowing who to root for.
A good complex villain is an embodiment of good intentions falling down a spiral staircase. And they must believe in their own righteousness until the very end.