Sunday, 16 September 2012

Vile Villains with Redeemable Flaws!

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 make 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 (I just love that word!) 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 the villain 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 he/she is a horror/supernatural villain, he may have no redeeming features at all. 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 through and through evil which we may assume him to be. 
 Always, 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. And more importantly more believable…
Do you give your villains a small touch of the nice-ies?



  1. Hmmmmm! Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I do like to see them get their own. I guess it depends on what I'm trying to achieve with that villain.

  2. My villain in my second book comes across as very sympathetic at times. I wanted to show that sometimes there is a gray area. That people who do horrific things are not always entirely bad. Of course there really are some people in the world who have no mitigating qualities but it is interesting to explore both sides of the coin.

  3. I am working on that now with a villain. I realized I'd done my heroes with their flaws, but had failed to do enough to make my villain have something truly human. Given, there is the fact that he's trying to survive like everyone else in a post-apoc world, but that's not enough. This is an excellent post, thanks!

  4. Fabulous post, Pat. I think most villains need a little humanity in them. I say this because I remember reading Pillars of the Earth and the villain in that book was so heinous that it somewhat put me off from the book. I don't think he received his just reward in the end.

    Flaws are within all of us, some to such an extent that it overflows into corruption. I want to read and write about villains in a way that brings us to somewhat understand them better.

    Again, thanks for the post and discussion.

  5. Wonderful post. I agree that some redeeming features make bad guys more believable and interesting. In the same way that flaws make protagonists more believable and interesting. I have yet to meet someone totally evil and bad or someone who is flawless. Our characters should reflect real people, right?

  6. Many thanks, folks, for the comments. I have been on holiday for a week so will catch up with you all as soon as I have unpacked!!!