Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Let's Talk Villains

My topic today is about the villains. The low-down dirty, I-can’t-believe-they-said-that, the people we love to hate bad guys/girls that can make or break a story. Yeah, them.

As much as romance readers root for the hero and heroine, you’ve got to admit, deep down, there’s something about the antagonist that makes the heart pitter-pat. Why? Not because we’re in love with the bad guys (although I will freely admit there have been some that I wished would have given the hero a bit more fight) it’s just because they’re so dang bad that we can’t wait to see what else they’ll do. How difficult will they make it for the hero/heroine to get together? Will they really kill Our Hero? (although, in recent days I’ve been irritated the villains have plenty of time to kill the hero but they waste it by talking about how they’ll kill them. Just do it already!) But that’s a post for another day…

When I first dabbled in romance writing, I was still a fresh-faced, bright eyed kid in school, content to entertain my fellow students with my scribbles in many, many notebooks. I had a creative writing teacher in high school who once said “Your hero is only as good as your villain.” Back then, I was like sure, whatever, villains can’t be good—that’s why they’re villains not heroes. But later on as my writing evolved and I learned I didn’t know all I thought I knew back then, those words returned to me.

And what is more? That teacher was right.

You see, a hero can’t stand on his own. He needs someone bigger and badder than he to create conflict, add drama, and be an all-around pain in the butt so the reader wants the bad guy vanquished and the hero to prevail. On the other side of the coin, a villain can’t exist without the good guy, otherwise, all his oozing underhandedness has nowhere to go. Sure, the villain has minions, but minions have agendas of their own and they’re a dime a dozen to a really good villain.

So, the better you write the villain, the better your hero will look when he defeats the supreme pain. Whether the Ultimate Problem in your novel is a demon lord, a mad scientist, a thwarted lover, or a mentally deranged killer, it doesn’t matter. These people have one goal: to stop your hero from reaching his HEA. The more roadblocks the Ultimate Problem creates, the more the reader will root for the hero.


Because every one of us has an Ultimate Problem to deal with in our own lives. Annoying relatives, delinquent mortgages, crappy job, broken-down car, sickness, bullies, whatever it is, you can bet it needs vanquishing. The stakes are high and will probably rise higher, but when the rubber meets the road, we are the heroes in our own tales and we will beat the Ultimate Problem—our villain. There is no other option. Do it or die. Fight and die free.

Readers aren’t stupid and neither are authors. When we write, we pour our heart and soul into the story. We’re wordsmiths, story-tellers, and anthropologists, but we also infuse the books with a little truth. The villain in a story can always represent whatever is going on in the author or reader’s life, and we always want the hero—the author or reader—to win. We quest for the happily ever after that sometimes we don’t have in our own lives but we want desperately.

And if reading books can make us braver, even for a tiny minute, then more power to all of us. So, ladies and gentlemen, feel free to take up your imaginary sword and slay that make-believe dragon. Empower yourself with the fantasy and maybe, just maybe, the villains in our real life won’t seem so scary after all.

Thanks for reading! Hope to see you back here next Wednesday.


J Hali said...

Sandi, Now I'll have to take another look at my bad guys, set up a few more roadblocks just to make sure they're 'bad' enough. You've also got me wondering who my imaginary sword was conjured for. Kudos on a great post.

Rebecca Royce said...

I'm writing a series right now that has the same bad guy throughout. Its difficult, becaus I'm actually finding myself identifying with him. What does this say about me?
Great post Sandi, lots to think about.

Sandra Sookoo said...

Joann--thanks for commenting. I'm not sure my post came off like I intended. LOL

Rebecca--it doesn't say anything about you LOL Just means your bad guy needs alot of team work to kill

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Sandra, I enjoyed reading your post. I think that as writers, we're bound to find sprinklings of our best and worst traits in our heros and villains...

Food for thought!
xx Francesca

Jen said...

I've learned by writing my villains that I have a very sick and dark corner of my brain. LOL.

Rebecca Rose said...

I like pretending I'm the bad guy. What would I do if I really wanted to mess with someone? If I put myself in their 'shoes' I'm less likely to make it far fetched. Plus, it's fun! :)


Sandy said...


Wow! What a great post.

Villains can't be redeemable, but I do believe that sometimes you can have some understanding of why they became the way they are. Then there are other villains too numerous to name that are just plain evil for no reason at all.

Good job.

Anonymous said...

My favorite villains are ones that have shades of gray. Even in real life, you're rarely going to meet someone that's all bad. And sometimes shades of gray can make the villain that much more scary. (Wait, how can he be out to destroy that hero I love when he just saved that the heroine from drowning!?!?) A villain that isn't predictable is much more frightening to me as a reader than a villain who is one dimensional. Of course, if you aren't going to redeem the villain in a sequel then he probably saved the heroine from drowing because he wanted the pleasure of killing her himself!

Sandra said...

Thanks for all the comments, guys! I like the bad guys, can't say why LOL They just make life more exciting, not for the redemption purposes, but for making the leading men/women look better :-)

Anonymous said...

Great post, Sandi.

I've found myself sometimes almost rooting for the villian but in the end, I'm glad someone slayed the dragon. I'm a happily ever after person and not to many of them include the villian. *Sigh*


Anonymous said...

A believable villain makes for a better story. The villain has to make sense; his or her motivations have to come from somewhere. For the serial killer or mad scientist type of villain, it's not enough to say that they're insane. Insane people have motivations, too. For a good example of an author thoroughly getting into the head of a really bad person, to the point where you almost have sympathy for them, check out Thomas Harris's Red Dragon (1980).

For the villain who's not insane, but either a sociopath or just mean, there's still usually a motivation, and the motivation most often is anger. The sociopath is so wrapped up in his or her own grievance that he/she has no time for anyone else's grievance; all that matters is that he/she was mistreated. The non-sociopath is still often operating out of resentment. Why should that goddam freshman suddenly be getting all Jim's attention just because she's got that idiotic platinum-blonde hair? I could have hair like that if I wanted my hair color to come out of a bottle! And that simpering smile of hers! Oooh, I'd like to kill her!

Hey, that's not a bad idea...

Sandra said...

I sometimes wonder if it wouldn't be fun to write a book from the villain's POV... :-)

Annie Nicholas said...

Great and insightful post Sandra. I do find myself routing for the villain sometimes. Can't they have a HEA? A book from their POV would be an interesting read.

Rebecca Royce said...

Marta Acosta has just quoted you on her blog. AHHH. It was thrilling for me.


Rae Lori said...

Oooh I loves me a good villain. I always think of Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner as one of my faves. He has motivation, some chemistry and he looks pretty good in short tight shorts. Okay so the last is optional but I love a villain that has some drive and a purpose to what he's doing rather than just being a baddie to take over the world. Sounds like you created a pretty well rounded villain if you identify with him, Sandi!

Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Hey Sandi
Like Re, I love meself a good villain! I actually find them more interesting to create than heroes. Why? Bcause there needs to be a very good reason for the reader to hate/dislike the villain and root for his death/destruction, and that's a challenge.
It's often happened that in some stories, there isn't a villain per se, as in a person standing in their way. A hero/heroine can be his/her own worst enemy and that's another great villain to create, that other facet of the same character that can bring his/her downfall.
Great post, loved it!

Chiron said...

Hi there Sandi!

Your post brought to mind the old Buffy series and the quintessential villain, Spike. Now there was a villain one could sink teeth into. *cough* *grin* He became so popular that eventually he became a hero too. Amazing.

Great post!

Chiron O'Keefe
The Write Soul:

Pamela said...

I very much enjoyed reading this post, and the blurb is fantastic!