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?