Worthy Villains

Every writer knows that a strong villain makes for a strong story.  The higher stakes, the faster the pages turn.  There are the obvious, fictitious, bad guys–like the evil stepmothers in Snow White and Cinderella, the enticing Hannibal Lecter, and the over-the-top Cruella de Vil, who’ll kill cute puppies to have a one-of-a-kind, fur coat.  But no villain declares his motives as clearly as Shakespeare’s Richard the III, who declares in his opening soliloquy “…And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover To entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determined to prove a villain And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”  And prove himself he does (at least in the play).

I believe that one of the reasons Harry Potter was such a success is that Voldemort was such an excellent villain.  He was twisted and powerful…and fascinating.  In lots of myths and fantasies, the battle comes down to good versus evil.  Look at Lord of the Rings and the Dark Lord Sauron, who commanded the Orcs.  Here’s a link to 50 of the best villains in literature:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/3560987/50-greatest-villains-in-literature.html  They come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of your favorites might or might not have made the cut.  But sometimes, villains can be more subtle.  Moriarity plays mind games with Sherlock Holmes, and the villain smiles and welcomes us in many an Agatha Christie mystery.  Annie Wilkes is an author’s biggest fan in Stephen Kings’ Misery.

In my novel Fallen Angels, I tried for a few kinds of villains–the serial killer who preys on women; Vlad, the favored, spoiled vampire who constantly breaks the rules; and the hero’s best friend, who’s also his most dangerous adversary.  But all the while, as Caleb creates and sanctions vampires, he stays committed to thinking of Enoch as a “brother.”  It’s a complicated relationship, and hopefully, Caleb makes for a complicated villain.  But whatever your taste in bad guys, a good book depends on them.  Which would you call your favorite?


10 thoughts on “Worthy Villains

  1. Your book is on my list of ‘to read’ – and what you say about villains is so true. Maybe that’s why in real life we sometimes create conflict in order to make things more interesting – ha!


    1. Wouldn’t that be interesting if we could pick and choose if and when we wanted conflict? It wouldn’t happen to me. I’m too happy as a putterer. I’d just fill hours of time and float along. Bet you’re ready for a little less stress too.
      Somehow I don’t see you as an urban fantasy fan. And that’s what I write. So just peek at the free pages and feel free to pass. You might not need vampires in your life right now. But thanks for being so generous with the offer.


  2. Fascinating post Judith…and very useful for aspiring little writers such as myself. I agree with you..that the villain must be, at least, as seducing, as the main hero. I am also very glad to discover you took an interest in my Romanian forefather Vlad the Impaler. I visited his castle a few years ago, it;s an astonishing construction with a lot of haunting corners :). You should come to Romania and visit us…we promise we won;t bite :).


  3. But do you nibble?:) If you have anything on writing you’d ever like me to blog about, let me know. I’ll give it a shot. And you’re no little writer. I like your voice and topics.


      1. I just got swamped this week. My agent’s letting me put four novellas online and I had to look at the electronic galleys. I think they’re going up today. My e-mail got hacked, and I’m still trying to fix that, and I had more company than usual. So I’m out of my usual rhythm, but it’s temporary.
        I found the short story The Silken Swift for you. I think you’ll like it since you like unicorns and fantasy and magic. I love the language Theodore Sturgeon used to tell this–lyrical. I hope you can open it. Judy


  4. Richard III is a great model, as are the others you name. Note to self: keep luxuriating in Judith’s fine prose and lucious villains.


    1. I got behind on everything on the internet. A storm wiped out most of our city’s power for three days. No fun. Hot and sweaty and DARK. Ended up reading my Kindle by flashlight, which was actually sort of fun. This weekend, we’re buying lanterns to light rooms. Then the boys can play cards, if they want to. Luckily, we have a gas stove and a grill, so could still cook. But couldn’t keep anything in the refrigerator. I’m not a fan of camping, and that’s what it felt like. Glad the power’s back.


      1. We habitually forget our (species) fragility, don’t we? I love the image of reading kindle by flashlight!


  5. I have a friend whose daughter lives on the East Coast. Lora visits them a few times a year, and her granddaughter has very strict bedtime rules. When Lora’s there, though, her daughter pretends not to notice that Lora sneaks into the little girl’s bedroom with a big umbrella and 2 flashlights and a pile of kid books. They put the umbrella up sideways to “hide” their light, turn on their flashlights, and read WAY past bedtime. Lora told me about it, and I thought it was pretty neat.


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