Friday, June 11, 2010

Villain Love

1. The White Witch from The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe
2. Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials trilogy
3. Alec D'Urberville from Tess of the D'Urbervilles
4. Sauron from Lord of the Rings
5. The Joker from Batman
6. Voldemort from Harry Potter
7. Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians
8. Darth Vader from Star Wars
9. The Grand High Witch from The Witches
10. Captain Hook from Peter Pan
11. The Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
12. Miss Trunchbull from Matilda

So, I've listed a dozen characters. What do they have in common? Yep.


Want to know something else they have in common? They don't really curse/cuss/swear, and yet they are in the top ten/fifty lists all over the internet. Sorry... I find that pretty interesting. Anyway, language aside, what makes them so vile? How do you write that evil, creepy character?

Here are a few things I think a villain needs:

1. Likability. (Yeah, even Voldemort is mildly likable as a kid.) (But, yeah... Sauron? Not so likable.)

2. A good reason for being bad. (Mrs. Coulter is only trying to do what's best for her daughter, Lyra, right? And that's a good reason to be bad! Every mother has the right to protect her kid.)

3. They are as complex as (of not more so than) the hero. (Cruella de Vil is so much more interesting than all the "good guys" from her story bunched together!)

4. They are easy identify with. (Darth. In Star Wars III, I feel his pain so completely, I GET why he turns evil. And it breaks my heart.)

5. They're human. They have flaws. And weaknesses. And weakness exists in all of us. So we get them. (Alec D'Urberville loves Tess, in a twisted, vile sort of way. LOVE is his weakness. And who can blame a man for loving a woman?)

If you want to see the lists I pulled these villains from, click here, here and here.

And tell me, what makes your villain shine? And do they cuss/curse/swear?


S.A. Larsenッ said...

Nope. No cussing, etc... My villain is crazy--literally. And when her (vile of sanity) is threatened, she loses it. Even though she's a bad girl, the reader will empathize with her and her desire to stay sane. It's the element that makes her human. (Granted, she gets everything she deserves but you have to feel for her.) She's also quite the hoot--sharp with her tongue and funny.

Tere Kirkland said...

I usually go for making them slightly sympathetic, try to give the reader a glimpse into their life to understand why they act the way they do.

Sometimes it can be difficult to make them the bad guy after all that, I get kinda attached. ;)

Unknown said...

Oh great post! I love villains! And I love this list; I do find it amusing though that Cruella is higher on the list than Vader, though. :)

I'm working on my villain right now and I'm hoping that I'm doing it right. In my mind he's likable and it's easy to understand why he's the bad guy, but whether or not I'm conveying it properly is a whole other story.

Thanks for sharing! :D

Laura Pauling said...

Everybody says Voldemort from HP. But Snape is by far my favorite villain from HP. My villains don't swear. And in general, I love villains. I even love the word, villain. a much better word than hero.

Steph Schmidt said...

No profanity, my villian is classier than that. I think the main reason my villian shines is you want to love to hate her. She just makes me grin every time I write one of her scenes because she just screams villain off the page but in a tempered whisper of course to the hero.

Angie said...

Nice post. My latest villain is angry at the world and who can blame him? He was enslaved for twenty years. He's just dealing with his anger and other emotions in a really bad way. I hope people can relate to that.

Lindsay said...

Ooh great list of villians.
My villian is a guy with flaws, and a reason for being bad. He thinks what he is doing is the best way of dealing with it.

Jeff King said...

The villains I like and write about are driven, diluted, powerful, conniving, brutal and extremely arrogant—to me being arrogant is how the good guy can win. This flaw is the opening the MC is looking for the turn the tide, it is vital the villain is this huge overwhelming problem and one on one the MC couldn’t possibly win.

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

I agree with Laura - Snape is my favorite villain.

My villains swear less than my MCs. ;-)

Stina said...

Cool post. My villians aren't realized until the end. They seem like nice, normal guys, but you don't realize they were the ones responsible for the mc's pain until they're revealed in the climax.

Margo Berendsen said...

Gotta big grin outta me when you showed me the truth of Cruella deVil being more interesting than all the other characters combined! So true!

I think in a big epic fantasy like LOTR you can get away without even really seeing the villian or knowing his personality, because the rest of the characters, settin and quest are so huge. But in a smaller story (shorter time-line, more personal plot) you need a villian with real character. I'm fascinated by John Travolta whenever he plays a villian.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting set of villains, though I know more villains through anime, manga, and other books, who can probably top the villains on this list any day.

One of them goes by the name of Johan; he's from a Japanese manga called Monster, which is created by Naoki Urasawa. He makes people do his bidding for him just by talking with them and it's not by hypnotism, mind control, or whatever. He just has a crazy personality that'll make any person listen to him, because he knows their mental weaknesses and he uses that against his victims.

As for my own villains, I try to create those that generally fit your list. As for cussing, depends on the character I'm working with and his/her personality.

Cool post and write on!

Caleb said...

Bricktop, from the movie 'Snatch' is one of the best villains of all time. And his mouth was filthy. Of course, he was in an R rated movie, not a juvenile novel.

Bethany, it goes back to your who we love and why post: "I'd like to love a man who has the potential of being evil, yet chooses good."

Maybe villains are those who have (or had) the potential to do good, but choose evil (add recipe for why villain chooses evil over good). This would make them the antithesis of our good guy, which makes a perfect faceoff.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the complexity aspect of villains. In high fantasy, you're allowed to get away with a faceless font of all evil (e.g., Sauron, Lord Foul in the Thomas Covenant books, etc.), but for more realistic novels with human villains, they just won't be interesting unless they're flawed and real.

Better yet if you can create empathy for your villain, as you noted.

Well said, good lady!

Unknown said...

Usually I LOVE my bad guys, but in this current series I'm working on, they really creep me out and make me afraid to walk in the woods alone at night.

I'm not sure why I'm so terrified of them though. What makes a villain scary?

Mine generally don't cuss or curse though, and if they do it's not in English. (Fantasy FTW!)

Nishant said...

I usually go for making them slightly sympathetic,
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