Villain. The word instantly brings to mind a hundred characters from our favorite, and sometimes our not so favorite, movies and books. These are the bad guys of fiction who we love to hate and hate to love but almost always like in one way or another. We’ll be looking at villains this month on Writing Prompts: the good, the bad, the ugly, and sometimes the downright despicable.
So, villain. What is a villain? For starters, it isn’t really a bad guy. Lets talk for a moment about bad guys. Who are some bad guys? Starting with the worst, perhaps Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler come to mind. These are some of the baddest of the bad guys who had henchmen who were as bad as they and sometimes worse! We can go back farther and bad guys are not hard to find sprinkled throughout history. Nero. Vlad the Impaler. Xerxes. Catherine the Great. Or we can fast forward and they are just as easy. Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Kim Jong Il, Bashar Assad, and Osama bin Laden.
Of course these are just leaders. Bad guys can be ‘average’ citizens too – as well as women. Jeffery Dahmer. Anders Breivik, Dennis Rader, or any one of a number of mothers who have killed their children in unspeakable ways. And lets not leave out people like Ivan Boesky, Bernard Madoff, Kenneth Lay, and Charles Keating. These guys destroyed hundreds, even thousands of lives through their unbridled greed.
I constructed this list quite deliberately because one thing I want you to notice is that you didn’t like any of these people. Literally, there is nothing likable about any of these psychopaths and as I read the names my gut grows tight. I ask you to contrast that emotion with the following list of names from fiction: Darth Vader. Hannibal Lector. Colonel Quaritch. The Wicked Witch. Captain Ahab. Voldemort. Ian Shaw. Sauron.
If you are anything like me at all, the first thing that jumps out is that you actually like these horrible people! Consider for a moment what you’re thinking. This really tall guy decked out all in black who goes around choking people for minor mistakes gives us a warm and fuzzy? Well, maybe that’s taking it a little too far, but the truth of it is, we like these people because they’re not people. They’re characters. And that is the main truth of villains. Were they people, we’d hate them with every fiber of our being. But because they are characters who are carefully crafted by their creators, we don’t connect with the horrible things they do. Instead, we connect with their strength of purpose. Or their cool outfit. Or their incredible leadership ability. Sure, we understand they are awful and we love to see them destroyed, but how many of us are going to dress up a six year-old in a costume of Pol Pot on Halloween? We like these folks! For some twisted reason we think they are cool.
So, this month, not only are we going to talk about our favorite villains, but we’re going to talk about how villains are created to be those all important horrible characters we can’t help but love, who keep us riveted to the plot and thinking about the story long after the final page is turned.
Today’s Writing Prompt: Make a list of your five favorite villains, why you like them, and how the writer pulled it off.
John C. Brewer is a lifelong soccer player, the author of Multiplayer, an adventure for young adults, and The Silla Project, a North Korean nuclear romance. Find out more about what he is doing at johncbrewer.com.