Thursday, 1 August 2013

What Makes a Good Villain?

I've just finished writing another novel and created a super nasty piece of work.  There’s no namby pampy ‘psychologically misunderstood’ or ‘aw, isn't the vampire/serial killer/criminal just unhappy/cuddly/economically-challenged’ for me!

I’ll let you into a little secret.  In one of my previous jobs I used to be a first aider.  That would mean I was sometimes timetabled to cover the first aid office and as a result, I earned the nick-name of Lady Macbeth from my colleagues.  It was due to my kind and caring nature you see.  Whenever students would enter the first aid room and they’d see me, they just turned around and walked away because no amount of whinging would make me write a note so they could get out of PE.  ‘I’m feeling poorly’ or ‘I've hurt my finger’ would be met with a ‘put your trainers on and get running!’  I was all heart.  I think in the five years I did the job; I probably had two actual injuries, which were dealt with accordingly of course.

However, I was secretly quite chuffed because Lady Macbeth is one of my favourite villains.  She’s manipulative, two-faced and full of ‘direst cruelty.’  My kind of gal.  I can’t think of any redeeming features and she tells her husband Macbeth to pull himself together, grow a pair and get stabbing the King of Scotland.  Woah!

I read an article in a writing magazine the other week that said there shouldn't be any real villains in stories, just characters with a troubled background.  What a load of crap.  I don’t care if Professor Moriarty wasn't breast fed as a child, nor if Dracula was misunderstood; they are bad mother frackers (yes I know that is to do with shale gas, it just sounds like ...).  And as such, I want to see them do dastardly deeds and then get defeated, but only just, by one of our heroes.  They may be good-looking, charming or intelligent; but ultimately if you want any conflict in a story, or any story for that matter, then they have to do something unpleasant.

Darth Vader was much more fun when he was wearing his shiny helmet, wafting his light sabre about – oh matron! – and clutching his fist and talking about ‘the power of the dark side’ rather than when he was all ‘I’m your father Luke, I’m not all that bad really.’  Darth Vader was much more fun than Anakin Skywalker, who I always thought was an arrogant knob anyway.

When I’m writing a story, creating the villains is one of my favourite parts.  I've just finished the first draft of a new novel and I've created a nasty piece of work.  He’s a violent criminal and even though he’s good looking and wears a nice suit, he is proper evil.  Obviously though, the villain has to be in proportion with the type of story you’re writing.  I loved creating Nik-Nak in The Ghost Hunters Return, but she was a fraudulent man-stealer, not a serial killer, which would have been a bit much in a chick-lit novel.

So who are your favourite villains?  And how do you go about creating them?

It’s giveaway time!  If you want to read about another of the bad-ass-mother-frackers I've created, then my novel The Policeman Who Was Afraid of the Dark will be free to download from Amazon on Wednesday 7th to Friday 9th August.

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  1. Depends on the kind of story you're writing, I suppose. If you're going for a degree of realism, then a straightforward villain might be a bad idea: in real life, people are rarely basically good or basically bad, just basically complicated. However, in a story that is less constrained by the demands of realism, an out-and-out villain can be the making of a book. 'Dracula' wouldn't be the same if the Count was just a misunderstood eccentric with an unfortunate taste for blood, rather than the badass that he undeniably is. Interesting post!

  2. I agree, the villain has to fit the story - It's funny, I haven't seen much written about villains and most stories usually have them in some form.

  3. To create villains I think of the nastiest qualities of people I don't like. I'm not sure if that's a good idea or not. I'm actually too soft to create a genuine 100% baddie. My favourite villains are Fix from Around the World In 80 Days, The Wicked Witch of the West and the baby with one eyebrow from The Simpsons.

    1. That baby is awesomely evil! Good call!