collecting thoughts

Hello everyone:)

I’m working on a new project right now, and I was hoping you could all give me some input on a question I have been mulling over. When you read a book what do you want in a villain?

Do you want someone who is senselessly and inherently evil, or one that can be almost likable? Does your bad guy need a defined reason to do the things he does or can he just like being bad?

Can you form a connection and hate him or love to hate him if he has virtually no good qualities to redeem him?

I have been tossing around ideas and am really curious to see what you think.

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60 thoughts on “collecting thoughts

  1. Hi lady! Great question. In my opinion. a bad guy/gal needs a few redeeming qualities to keep the reader on their toes. I like the mystery of a not-quite-completely bad guy/gal. Questioning how they got so bad and if they could ever turn to the good side, always adds spice to my reading experience.
    Miss you,
    P

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    • You rock. Really, you do. I’m toying with an idea of trying to prove that there is real evil. Psychosis and ptsd aside, that there can be people who get a thrill just from being awful. I’ve seen books even recently where the villain ends up being excused for his behaviour because he had a rough childhood. I’m wondering what people will do with a truly vile character who really enjoys human suffering.

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      • Unfortunately I have to agree about the evil, but somehow not as some supernatural force. I don’t see a lot of that in books but certainly do on television. There’s seems to be a movement to almost justify evil by making some characters in need of sympathy. I’m all for compassion, but there are some so rotten to even take advantage of a person when they sense that quality.

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  2. I think it’s important to be able to relate in some way to any character in order to have any sort of feelings for them. It’s hard to hate a character if you can’t see something human in them to hate – it’s got to relate to real life somehow. And so (and I’m thinking about this as I type) I’d say that there has to be a reason behind a villain’s badassness.

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      • Coincidentally, I was JUST thinking about that. I’m having an issue at the moment with the bad guy I’m writing for the A-Z challenge on my fiction blog. I’m writing it on the fly, with no planning at all. Today, my bad guy came in to my good guy’s book store in a long black raincoat, a fake moustache and a Napoleon hat with a feather, and started telling my good guy a knock knock joke in Gollum’s voice. It was so funny, I realized I was starting to like him.
        Anyway, all this to say that if your bad guy is funny, your audience will like him. If your readers like him, you’re definitely not going to be able to kill him. Better if there’s, at worst, some poetic justice or at best something witty or ironic that eventually gets the better of him.

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  3. I’m with those who say the bad guy or gal has to be human (unless of course the bad guy or gal is an alien and that’s a whole different kettle of fish) and that means a mixed bag of good and bad qualities. As a reader, I am suspect of any character that is too good or too bad. Fine if other characters think the bad one is all bad or a good one is all good, fine even if the individual characters in questions see themselves in shades of black and white. But I better not find out that’s what the author thinks or I’ll grow bored with the book fairly quickly.

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  4. Great question, but I don’t really have an answer because I like both the inherently evil and the likable with redeeming qualities depending on the type of story it is. Right now I am reading a story about a man who is inherently evil. It’s 1892. It’s a scary story. He’s psychotic, A serial killer. He’s beyond redemption. Maybe he’ll be redeemed in the sequel. I dunno. I am loving this character, almost as much as I loved Hannibal Lecter. The again, characters like Hannibal Lector and Darth Vadar gave me a better sense of closure and a more satisfying ending.

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      • Did you read The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson? It is non fiction, but written like fiction and is side splitting hilarious to me having worked in a psych hospitals including a forensics unit.

        I love a good villian whose wickedness is a study in psychology. They don’t call them psychopaths or sociopaths without reason.

        I know, I know…we don’t want to stigmatize mental illness, I’m a little bit disturbed myself, but really, there’s probably not one person in jail who wouldn’t benefit from a few psychotropic drugs.

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  5. I like my villains multi-dimensional. Neither all bad or all good. The important part to me is they have some reason for being bad. Their background is such that they can almost not help doing the bad things they do. In this way the villain has a substantial motivation for evil and as a result be able to do nice things as well.

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      • I guess that could happen, but the character background if thought through will likely have a root cause. (if you can figure it out it will make the story so much richer. Something like; a family secret of a crazy gene or cousins breeding) If not the story will take on a plausibility question. You know how it goes a reviewer or reader wondering aloud “the only part of the story I couldn’t figure out was why the character snapped. I think the author wanted to create a story, and the just snapped outcome was the only solution.”

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  6. Great question! For me it depends on what you want to get across in your story. I think villains, if they’re human, need to be human. Doesn’t mean they have to be likable at all, but they do need to act like them. Having motivation and reason behind that motivation that’s well developed is always good to have. Sometimes you do want a villain who the reader sympathizes with. I’ve never been a fan of the inherently evil villain deal. I like to have a reason for why they are the way they are, even if it means I hate them all throughout.

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  7. I don’t like the absolute evil. The risk is that the character becomes a caricature rather than being real. I prefer real to caricatures.

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  8. I think there has to be something mesmerising in a villain. They should be beguiling; sensuous and kind one minute; pure evil the next. As a reader, you must have an affinity (somewhere) for them.and yet, when they get their comeuppance, you should have a yes!!!!! Moment. If that makes sense

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  9. Have you seen the Avengers Movie yet? Or either of the Thor movies? Apparently (according to Tumblr) Loki is a really well loved villain. And look at Gru from Despicable Me.

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  10. I like a variety of villains, but I do think they always need a reason. Though ‘I like being evil’ is a reason that can be very telling about the character. Trying to make a villain who appeals to every reader is tough since people have different interests. I’m thinking of the main villain from Final Fantasy 7 who gets a wide range of reactions. Some people think he’s lame with a mother complex, others hate him for being cool, many think he’s the greatest character in the game, and everything in between.
    One thing that helps is to tailor the hero and villain to each other. They can be polar opposites or simply be mirror images of each other. I do tend to like heroes and villains where you can see how one could have become the other if their lives went differently. For example, Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty are always shown to be similar to each other except one is ‘good’ and one is ‘evil’.

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      • I guess it depends. Does the villain perceive someone as a rival or hero? Either way, the villain would have a rationale for whatever he or she is doing. So it would be difficult to do pure evil. Even the most horrific human being in history believed he or she was doing the right thing.

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  11. I think the villain should be realistic,. Because no one is all bad or without motivation, he/she should have some good qualities and a believable motivation. Even insane people have a motivation; it just may be based in delusion.

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  12. I’m not the best person to weigh in, because most of my villians are corporate, government, or environment. Here’s my two cents anyway. I think it’s more important to have a complete character. No one is good or evil – all the time. The villain can be a good parent or spouse. Dracula had a charm and personality about him that almost made you forget what he really was.

    Having said that, I still think there’s room for another just plain evil charatcter. It depends on the type of story you’re telling.

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  13. Pingback: Wanders around WordPress – journey two | More than a Cat

  14. Depends on the story really – a totally evil sociopath can be very effective, if sometimes a bit one dimensional, and sometimes its exactly what you need to get the dramatic tension. On the other hand villains that have layers and motivations etc can make for more psychological driven,realistic and layered books – so it depends what story you are trying to tell. Personally I do tend to like the latter more – I couldn’t finish Lord of the Rings, for instance, because I just thought Sauron must have his good side (LOL) so I guess that says something about me (though I’m not sure what LOL!).

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  15. In my genre of fantasy mystery, I don’t get much chance to show the villain – his/her works are what are seen until the solving part. Still, I have made them bad, unsympathetic, and reaping just desserts. My latest, though, has about as evil as you can possibly get being redeemed – it came as a surprise to me, too, and I wrote it!

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  16. Good question. I love it when I can write a good baddie. I like knowing why the baddie is doing whatever they’re doing. Everyone has to have motivation – but it doesn’t necessarily need to be included in the story (it’s just important for the author to know). I think some people are just bad, but noone is born that way. Also, there has to be a reason the baddie picked the victim – it would be a waste of time being nasty to everyone.
    Most baddies are normal until something triggers their bad side.
    I’m a sucker for a clever villain with a sense of humour. I know I shouldn’t root for them… but I do.

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  17. I was going to answer this but started reading comments first – and you unfollowed me????? How could WordPress do that? I am entirely too important to be unfollowed. JK I had WP do that to me on some people before. Damn technology.

    Anyway, I think it entirely depends on your story. There truly is total evilness (is that a word?) and if you don’t care if the reader knows who the villain is, then that is okay. But if you are keeping it a secret from the reader and the good guys, then you probably need to make the villain charming and someone you would never suspect.

    Now, quit reading this and follow Charles and I again (maybe it was all of those birthday posts)

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  18. I don’t think we can divide characters in only good or only bad. It would be unrealistic. There’s in human nature to have both good and bad parts. I like “bad”characters who appear harmless at first and then, little by little you discover the facade, the mask he/she wears.
    And another thing: I totally disagree with the idea the Vald the Impaler was rotten. It’s a stereotype due to Hollywood movies on Dracula. The historical character was not Satan. He was human like any of us. And there were other kings of that period more cruel than he was.

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  19. I love the purely evil character, one with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Some may say that this type of villain is far too predictable, but out of this predictability he becomes unpredictable in the methods that he/she/it chooses to use to perpetrate the evil. I never get tired of this type of character, maybe because I am such a big horror movie fan or perhaps I am just nuts. Either way, this my two cents worth.

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  20. What a great question! My co-author and I went back and forth about the “villain” for our series. We decided to go with the idea that unimaginable evil is sometimes done by those who believe themselves to be not just right but good. I think history is full of examples.

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