Friday, September 08, 2006


What makes a truly evil character? What makes an engaging villain? Who are the ones you love to hate, and why?

This is a question that plagues writers almost as much as what makes a good protagonist. It's really connected to the first question. One of the elements that defines a good protagonist is the adversary s/he faces. It's a question I ask myself while I'm writing or plotting a story, and indeed, whenever I've just read a book or watched a movie with a really good plotline to it.

I've narrowed it down to two kinds of villains that really pull at me. The first kind is the deliciously eeeeee-vil villain who's just skanky, sleazy, and vicious. They're evil for evil's sake, and everyone buys their "face." Or they're so powerful, they have no need to put up a front.

Now this is not the villain who flies into fits of rage--the deliciously evil villain is more secure in his own power than that, and doesn't feel the need to blow up henchmen for simple sass. This is the villain who will adopt your children and raise them in his image, just because he can. He's a real rat bastard, but his followers are loyal, and those who loathe him can't do anything to stop him.

The second kind of villainy that I aspire to is the sympathetic villain. This is the villain who's so thoroughly convinced that he's the hero of his own story that you can't help but wonder if maybe it's you who's got things wrong. Not quite a zealot, he's got the motivations that make his actions perfectly logical. You look at him and think, "In his shoes, I'd have done the same damn thing."

Emperor Palpatine from Star Wars is an excellent example of both these types of villains. In the original trilogy, he's powerful and evil, and the very thought of him aboard the second Death Star invokes triple shifts and double time. In the prequel trilogy, we see he's not just evil and powerful, he's smart, too. He arranges things to do the best for himself, and according to his beliefs, he's absolutely in the right.

Who's your favorite villain, and why?

1 comment:

Lynda K. Scott said...

I'm not sure I have a favorite villain. But I have bunches of unfavorites :-D

My unfavorites are simple boogie men, the monster under the bed type who never get a personality (even if it's an evil one). They do evil because, well, it's evil LOL and while I don't mind that--I like a little more meat on my villains.