The Problem of the Omniscient Villain

People deride heroes who are too perfect in stories. We should deride villains who are too perfect too.

One of the common problems of modern storytelling is that creators often make their villains so smart that they sometimes seem to be all-knowing characters. They do this to make the hero’s struggle harder, or they do it to make the villain more interesting. But this never made sense to me. Making a villain omniscient doesn’t make the story more interesting; it just makes for a mistake.

I won’t mention the movie’s name because that’s not the point of this column. But it was a popular movie a few years ago. I’m not a huge fan of it because I never cared for the villain. At every point in the film everyone’s actions and reactions were just as the villain knew they would be. This was done to the point that it made him seem as if he could see the future even as he had no way of doing so.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean.

After the good guys capture the villain midway through the movie, he escapes by having people and tools in place he couldn’t possibly have known to have in place in order to escape. He has planned for scenarios that he couldn’t possibly have known would happen. On top of this, the people who have the villain captured act and react exactly as he “knew” they would act and react. Specifically, they do irrational things that all work to the benefit of the villain as if he is somehow supernaturally controlling them.

Many people didn’t mind what I minded. And that is fine. To each his own.

But the villain I described was simply too all-knowing for my liking. And I’ve seen that too many other times in other stories as well.

In fact, I’ve seen it so many times I specifically created a villain who is far from omniscient in one of my own stories.

You can read “I Am Chaos” in full and for free at Liberty Island Magazine (although donations via the tip jar are always welcome) and see what I mean. And in addition to not being omniscient, the villain I created destroys another stereotype: the man who becomes a supervillain simply because he has gone crazy.

A protagonist who is too perfect is called a Mary Sue or Gary Stu. I wonder what we should call an antagonist who is omniscient? I don’t know. But I know it’s best if stories avoid him.

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