After reading the rough draft of one of my books, my sister asked me how in the world I could stomach writing the part of my villain? In this case, the villain happened to be human. Yes, that matters. There are different types of villains, but we’ll get to that in a moment. I couldn’t really give her a direct answer. It wasn’t easy. It definitely took a lot out of me. It kind of made me sick to my stomach, but not in a long-lasting kind of way. Just as with any of my other characters, once I was done purging the villain out onto the paper, he was no longer in my system. I didn’t dwell on it – and as crazy as it sounds, my villains come to me just as out of the void, by some cosmic stroke of something, as my protagonists and sub characters do. I don’t go looking for them.
On the off chance that I would need to go looking for one, I certainly wouldn’t run out of options in this day and age! The range of villains has definitely expanded drastically over the decades, but with all of the horror movies and Law & Order type TV shows filling up our DVRs, I think we’ve become kind of numb to the terror they used to instill in their audience, making it difficult to come up with a unique villain or even just a ‘bad guy’ that would actually scare someone.
That’s where we get into the different types of villains. Fortunately, I’m not in the business of writing horror, so I don’t actually need to focus as much attention to the details of my villains, but I will try to cover the majority of my perspective on various kinds.
The Human Villain
Top of the list, because they are the most frightening. The human villain is us. We all have a darker side. We can relate, even sympathize with some of the reasons why the villain crossed that line and those reasons are far too varied to list. For the same reason why psychological thrillers scare me far more than slasher movies do, the human villain will never lose its potency, because it can really happen. Because, there are human villains in the world, we see them in the news all of the time. Here’s more of a breakdown of our choices:
The human condition: That long list of mental illnesses that are attributed to crime (i.e. sociopaths, schizophrenia, narcissism, etc.)
The product of circumstance: Abused, neglected, ridiculed, bullied, etc.
The fanatic: Terrorists, bigots, lynch mobs, Nazis, ‘witch hunters’, etc.
Now, in general there’s really only two types of human villain in a story… the one that has always been that way and demands no sympathy from the reader, or the one that we experience deteriorating into depravity over time and typically through trials of emotional/mental trauma that pulls at our own fears and emotions, thus allowing us to empathize with them on some level, even if we wouldn’t make the same bad choices. Both can be very powerful options in writing, depending on your storyline.
The 7 Deadly Sins Villain
Okay, I have to confess… Religious horror movies scare the crap out of me. There. Now you know. The Exorcist, Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, The Seventh Sign, Stigmata… (my skin is crawling). It’s just creepy. But how does that apply to villains in the written word? The use of the 7 deadly sins.
- Sloth (I’m looking at you Michael Meyers. I could’ve run to Mexico by the time it takes you to cross a street.)
Attribute just one of these to a villain’s personality and you have an endless spectrum of misdeeds they’re capable of. While most villains – like most of us – have more than one of these sins to blame for their behavior, you can’t deny that many a memorable villain was wrapped around just one major no-no. #1 has to be Lust for Power (cough, Senator Palpatine, cough). I’ll let y’all sort out the order of the other 6.
The Specter Villain
I’m not talking about possessed dolls, but of those villains that are more spectral than anything else, kind of like how Voldemort was for most of the Harry Potter books until The Goblet of Fire. He was still able to be a very powerful and convincing villain, even without a body. The villains in a lot of the Native American legends were more ‘spirit’ than corporeal, and also many ancient cultures attributed the elements to the more ‘villainous’ types of deities. A few others may include:
- The legend of the Mothman (though it is still debatable on whether that’s a villain or an early warning of major disaster).
- The Jinn
The Supernatural Villain
The supernatural villain is a little more detached than the others, because – duh – they’re supernatural. Which means that they don’t have to have a single iota of humanity within them what.so.ever. They don’t have to have a reason why they’re evil, they could be evil incarnate itself. There’s no limit. I’d like to say that I always try to make my villains easier to relate to in order to add that depth, those layers for the reader, but it really just depends on the storyline. Here’s more of a breakdown as to some of the different kinds of supernatural villains there are:
- The Myth/Legend Villain: Uhhh… take your pick. The Minotaur, Giants, Dragons, Vampires, Mummies, etc.
- The Religious Villain: Satan, Demons, Fallen Angels, Hades, Titans, etc.
- The Powers Villains: Witches, Warlocks, Sorcerers, Gypsies, etc.
- The I Just Made That One Up Villain: Because supernatural covers an endless source of creativity…
The Alien Villain
Kinda self-explanatory, that one.
The Hero Villain
I’m torn down the middle on this one. It is either my least favorite or my all time favorite. It just depends on how the hero villain is constructed. A prime example of a hero villain would be (drum roll please) Darth Vader. Everyone knows why, and if you don’t know why, smack yourself upside the head right now. Vader is an example of a good kind of hero villain – now that episodes 1-3 have been released. It’s believable that in the end, he would sacrifice himself to save his son, turning his back on his villainous ways and all that good stuff. If you’re crying spoiler alert, smack yourself again.
The irritating hero villain that I absolutely abhor is the “I see the light” one. No offense to all you light-seers out there. In the form of fiction, though, the whole “something major happens and the villain does a 180 into a hero” finale is just too Hallmark, Lifetime, Disney for my taste. A hero villain should struggle with their unexpected desire to be better and that struggle should be left hanging at the end of the book. They’re off to a good start, but you (as the reader) know that they’re still going to have to work on it. It’s that premise of hope that leaves a lasting feeling of satisfaction, rather than a “What?! Are you kidding me? That was a waste of my time!” feeling.
Even if the hero villain has completed their 180 by the end of the book, it should still be at a more realistic pace. Yes, I know! Realism in fiction? Go figure!
Thanks for stopping by for this trip into the Darkside. Sorry, I ate all the cookies before you got here. That still doesn’t mean the contract wasn’t binding…minion. 😀
♥ The Overlord