What Makes a Good Villain?

We’re going to talk about liking villains, so let’s cut the crap. The truth is, admit it or not, we LIKE our darker sides. Although we would never ACTUALLY do it, who has NEVER daydreamed of successfully robbing a bank? Oh sure, the money is nice, REALLY nice….but that’s not what we so deeply enjoy. We enjoy the thought of “getting over” on the system and/or our fellow man.

Who doesn’t lust– at least occasionally? And some of us keep from getting caught by our spouse! <satire>

Who doesn’t like to take time off– at least occasionally? Some of us are more apt to call it “retirement” while they lounge around and do nothing all day– for days/weeks on end.

Who doesn’t want to be/feel at least a little superior to their fellow man or woman? Guilty….as charged….sorry. Gandhi I’m not.

So when writing a villain, don’t be afraid to write a REALLY bad guy. Memorable characters (good or bad) make for repeat readers 🙂

Ok….now that we have that out of the way…there are two encampments in writing a good villain. The first has a much narrower audience in that the reader has to be more in touch with their “bad” side and be willing to look at it– especially in comparison to others’ bad sides. Villain number one really shines in the arena of how he REALLY screwed the good guy over (usually before being defeated in the end). This can be accomplished either in a new and interesting way to the reader– or with a certain flair and style that the reader didn’t expect. For example (I was thinking about this on the way home the other day), you could write a story about a villain who has a penchant for identity theft. You would want to leave out a few critical parts of the process of course but the villain finds unsuspecting victims on social media and steals their identity. Okay, ho hum at best….however….. This particular villain “follows” the person online and learns everything about the prospective victim including likes, dislikes, quirks, idioms, etc. etc. etc. When the villain is ready, he (or she) locks the victim out of their accounts and BECOMES the victim….online. The villain starts a campaign not just learning about the victim’s friends and relatives likes/dislikes/habits/private information, but also poisoning the victims friends and relatives into believing that the victim had changed– as a person– into what the villain wanted the victim to become. The whole point of this little exercise for the villain is not just to rob the target of their money, SSN, etc but also to fool everyone into believing that when the REAL victim does show up….no one believes them.

More often than not villain number two will be used– and easier to write. Very few people in all of human history are 100% evil. Almost everyone has SOME good quality about them. This type of villain is every bit as Evil as the first, but has at least one or more redeeming qualities that help the reader identify or relate to the bad guy in some way. This villain may embezzle lots of money each from millions of people (and even believe that he or she was right in doing so), but might also….really love dogs….for example (who doesn’t love a dog?). Another villain might be a high-profile assassin– who just happens to do pro-bono work assassinating corrupt politicians while leaving evidence of the corruption a the scene of the crime.

No one reads a story hoping to find a weenie or easily vanquished bad guy at the end. Villains that truly embody the darker side of humanity– encouraging the reader to really detest or even hate them– are the stuff of great fiction. And that (along with a little good side in the villain) is what makes the bad guy memorable.

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