Thursday, 3 May 2012

Wicked is as Wicked does - Villains!

V - Villains

"I have to go now, I'm having an old friend for dinner." (Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs)

Ha ha! Don't you just just love this amusing quote? I do...  But seriously, villains are the best things in story terms.
A story without some kind of villainous character is hardly a story, in my opinion. For every hero has to have someone (or something) that provides the adversarial context of a story.  And, as we all know, conflict equals trouble and trouble (when the main character has to fight to overcome obstacles) equals a good plot. A good villain ( flawed or not) is the most useful tool to achieve all this.

But to say a villain in a thriller story is flawed is like saying coal is black!
Of course a villain is flawed, I hear you say, otherwise he would be a pretty poor antagonist. A good villain has a personality that most of us would not aspire to as he may be capable of the most dastardly acts. I am however talking about a villain who may be flawed because he/she has some decent human traits that show us he isn’t totally bad. The only villain who could be said to be totally bad is the devil himself, I guess. Most others started out as innocent babies and children but maybe something happened to make them bad. Or maybe not – maybe they simply have more of the undesirable human traits in their genetic make up. Nasty traits do exist to some extent in all of us, but hopefully most people have control of those urges and anyway have more humanity and caring for fellow humans. 
How villainous a character is depends mostly on the type of story you are writing. If it is a love rival or a corporate executive he may not be so nasty in all areas of his life but on the other hand if it is a horror/supernatural villain he may have no redeeming features. For example a bad character may be wicked and malicious to people but may love animals! In this way he is a flawed character and not true to the caricature of evil which we may assume him to be. 
 So, when using villains, a suitable adversary/hero is necessary and it is the juxtaposition of their characters that allow the most conflict and tension in a story.  The hero who has faults is a much more interesting character than the perfect boring type of individual. I think we can relate better to him because he is flawed – as we all are too. Similarly, we all know people who we consider to be horrible individuals but we know (maybe deep down) they will have some redeeming characteristics too.
For me, giving my villains one redeeming human trait, amongst all the vicious, nasty ones, makes them much more interesting ( and indeed fun) and if their malevolent ways came about because of something that happened to them – well, it just makes them all the more intriguing. Not nice and not worth rooting for but maybe a little more human?
So, what do you think? Should villains always be totally bad people with no redeeming factors?


  1. I think villains should have some qualities we can identify me. The best villains are the ones that could easily have been us, if we'd taken a different path - that's where my fear of them comes from.

  2. Villains without redeeming characteristics are the least likely to come across realistically.

    Even Hannibal Lector never killed anyone unless they wronged him first. He was quite fair in an insane sort of way.

  3. I think in order for the villain to be believable and interesting he must have some qualities that are likable or something that might make us feel something toward them like sympathy.

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  4. I agree - I think it makes for a stronger, more believable story if the villain has something likeable or vulnerable about them x

  5. Yes, perhaps. It sorta depends on the story and the villain. But generally, a more well-rounded villain is more compelling!

  6. I do love a good villain. I'm kind of on the fence on this one. I don't mind if they're all bad, I guess.