Villain as a protaganist

Question: I'm writing a novel with the villain as the centre of attention. Most chapters (80% of the book) are in his point of view.

How do readers respond to such a novel? He's a murderer so what if they can't sympathize with him, especially as the remaining chapters are about the victim's family?

Will it be harder to get an agent/ publisher's attention than the traditional ones which follow the 'good guy'?

What other things should be kept in mind while writng with the villain as your protaganist?

Thank you.

Answer: There are a couple of traditional ways to make the villain the protagonist.

One is to have the villain be the protagonist, the character pursuing the Goal, but make the main character the antagonist, the person trying to avoid or prevent the goal. That's how, for example, the James Bond films work. Blofeld is the protagonist and villain, while Bond is the antagonist and main character (principle POV).

Another approach is to make the main character an antihero - an immoral protagonist. The trick here (generally) is to give him some redeeming quality that makes him better than the antagonist. For example, in Bertholt Brecht's play, The 3-Penny Opera, Macheath is an assassin who frequents prostitutes. But he becomes a kind of "working class hero," making the point that his crimes are nothing compared to those committed by bankers and capitalists every day that harm far more people (Brecht was a Marxist). Robin Hood is another example.

Antiheroes don't have to be champions of the people, but they must have something that makes them better than their adversaries - for example, loyalty to friends and family, certain ethical lines they won't cross, etc.

A third approach, which you seem to be taking in your story, is to make the main character the protagonist - but pursuing an evil goal. I have seen stories where this has been done - some in which
the main character is successful, others in which he is not.

The key to this type of story is to make the main character charming, at least at the beginning of the story, so that the reader is pulled into his perspective.

The challenge you face is in deciding what message or meaning you want the story to deliver. Do you want the reader to appreciate how easily one can be sucked into an amoral point of view or to become an evil person? Are you trying to depict a descent into madness? In such cases, the reader must realize at some point that the main character is mad/evil. You have to wean them off their empathy with the main character's point of view.

You can make the story like a classical tragedy, in which the reader sees the main character make the wrong decision at the climax and suffer the consequences.

Or, in cases where the main character wins, the reader is left with the message that evil sometimes succeeds. But I think you would want the main character to be much less charming by the end, so the reader can distance himself from the character. Otherwise your story would be advocating evil.

As for appealing to an agent, the trick here (once again) is to give your main character a charming, authentic, and intriguing voice. You might want to write in first person, so that the main character can talk to the reader directly, making the reader his confidant.

The effect is rather like having someone try to befriend you. He talks to you a lot, sharing the intimate details of his perspective. You are flattered by the fact that he treats you as a confidant, and you get taken in by his charm. But at some point the clues add up and you realize this guy is crazy and dangerous. That's when you pull back a little from the relationship and start counting the exits.

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