Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Villains - It's Complicated

I am coming off my first round of ~Real Live Editing~ this week, and am SO excited my inaugural Brave New Words post gets to be about...VILLAINS. >:)

Who do you picture when someone mentions villains? Cruella de Vil? Fagin? Voldemort? Are they evil for the sake of being evil, a nasty individual out for revenge? Or is there something more behind those crafty, calculating bad guys?

I find the most compelling villains also have a (*gasp*) sympathetic side. Yes, they have done something truly awful...but somehow you can't help sympathizing a little. The most powerful example I can think of in recent YA fiction is Ty from Lucy Christopher's STOLEN.

Ty has committed a heinous crime - he drugged 16-year-old Gemma in an airport, kidnapped her, and hid her away in a remote part of the Australian desert to do who-knows-what to her. This is the sort of thing you read about in headlines and think: WHAT A SICKO!

Except that Ty isn't just a sicko. He's a very human, if damaged, individual. Through Gemma's eyes we get to know him, understand him, even...sympathize a little. I wouldn't spoil this book for the world (it may not be sci-fi, but it's a thriller through and through), but suffice to say by the last page, you are left feeling very differently about Ty and his actions than you were at the beginning.

This, to me, is the hallmark of a fantastic villain. They are not the one-dimensional boogey man who jumps out at you in the dark, they're often the misunderstood person (or even monster - hello Frankenstein!) whose shoes feel all too comfortable once you step into them. That certainly does not make their villainous actions okay (we know Norman Bates had a terrible mother, but that will never excuse what he did to Janet Leigh!). It DOES make for a complex character who comes alive on the page.

Because every good villain will make you wonder HOW and WHY they got that way.

A lot of writers will admit they love writing villains, and I count myself among them. It's interesting to get inside the head of someone who makes vastly different choices than you ever would.

So, who are some of YOUR favorite bad guys/girls and why?


  1. I think one of the best villains is the Jew Hunter from Inglorious Bastards. He is charming, articulate, well-groomed, pleasant...and a vicious killer. How did he get that way?

  2. The Grinch. He couldn't help it if his heart was two sizes too small. :)

  3. I've always had a soft spot for the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera.

    He's twisted and scary, yet also so... pitiful.

  4. Dolores Umbridge. Hate that woman! But she's such a good villain because she's so believable.

  5. Oh I haven't read STOLEN but I think I need to now!

  6. Mayor Prentiss! Leave Todd and Viola alone!!!
    (Knife of Never Letting Go)

  7. I've always likethe very charming villain Miss Jean Brodie, who is much less a villain in the film version than in Muriel Spark's novel. She is so convinced of her good intentions, she hardly thinks it's problematic she's attempting to mold a coterie of girls in her own image and indoctrinate them with fascism. I have to admire her confidence and powers of manipulation...

  8. Oh I think we have very similar views on villains! *loff*

  9. Wow, awesome everyone! ;) I can tell I need to brush up on some of my villains! They're so good and SO bad... Hee.