Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Do You Like Your Villains?

The other night I was watching the movie Independence Day and it got me thinking about villains.  Now with that movie, the big bads are extremely big and very very bad.  They truly have no redeeming qualities. You didn’t see them much, but they were the driving force of the entire film. They stay bad until they get blown apart-no question about their badness.
This got me thinking about a book that annoyed me a few years back (I love the author in general, so I’m not saying who it was ;)).  Her villain turned nice guy.  Ok, maybe not nice guy and she sort of had two layers of “big bads”, however she mellowed them too much towards the end for my taste.  First, the lower level big bad went all soft and mushy (“just misunderstood, and mistreated”) then the horrific big bad guy- did the same thing.  After three books of us seeing how bad he was.
Now, villains should always be thought of as being the heroes in their own story, they can’t just be bad to be bad- they need to be aiming for their own goal.  Even complete sociopaths have their own twisted goals.  But I had a problem with this author when she “redeemed” the bad guys.  Call me old fashioned, but I don’t want the bad guys to change their minds, I want them to get their comeuppance (I’m a mean vengeful little thing ;)).  I read this book YEARS ago, and it still sticks with me how let down I felt when the author had them realize the error of their ways.
Part of the problem for me was the effect it has on the conflict that had unfolded over three books- why fight when with enough psychobabble the villain will realize it was just because they didn’t have enough love and it’s all good?  (And yes, I have an educational back ground in psychology, I believe in psychology, but I DON’T agree with using it as a God in The Machine.)
Another part is the hero and heroine.  Your good guys (and gals) are only as strong as the foes you throw against them.  What does it say when instead of being “bested” the villain gives up and everyone understands they weren’t bad really? (I am over exaggerating a mite here for emphasis, but it’s not too far off. ;))
Clearly, the aliens in Independence Day are an extreme, and valid only in certain types of movies and books.  Big bads that straightforward and one dimensional won’t work for most projects.  But at the same time, don’t let your villains wimp out at the end.  To me the major transformative character arc should be your heroes, keep the villains multi-dimensional- but also keep them bad.
What about you?  What types of villains to you love to read/watch?  If you’re a writer,what type do you write?
Thanks for coming by!
Marie Andreas


  1. I agree with you, Marie. I expect the villains to be consistently bad and I want my strong, alpha male hero to conquer and win in the end for his love. One of the most evil villains I recall was a woman...from DEVIL'S EMBRACE and the sequel, DEVIL'S DAUGHTER by Catherine Coulter, both exceptional heart-stopping reads.


  2. Great post! Good villains are so hard to get right! If they're too one-dimensional, I lose interest. But doing an about-face like that isn't believable. It's a fine line to walk, making them nuanced and interesting without redeeming them. One of my favorite almost-redeemed-but-not-quite villains is from Laura Bickle's EMBERS. She manages to write a sympathetic villain while still keeping the conflict sharp and the danger real.

  3. Thanks for coming by and commenting Regan. Those are my thoughts too- my hero's and heroines can't be all that strong if the villain is a marshmallow!

    Great book recommendation too!

    Thanks again for coming by :)

  4. Thanks for coming by A.J.

    Yes, it's a very fine line to keep them "human" (even the non-human ones, need something we can relate to) and yet, not have them wimp out at the end. But the best authors manage to do it ;). Great recommendation too A.J.- I haven't read Laura yet, but she's on my TBR pile (and now will be moving up on the list ;)).

    Thanks for the comments!

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  6. When it comes to villains, I'm usually not picky. I agree all villains are due comeuppance. I really got into Dexter for a while. And I loved the bad guy in the tv series American Gothic, the evil sheriff had that bad boy quality that made me wish he would become good. And finally there is Hannibal Lester (sp), the truly scary Psycho. I hate to see bad guys get away. In a world where it seems bad wins, I like the stories where the good man or woman wins. My two cents.

  7. I think it's very tricky to give a villain their own book and make them look heroic. As you say it's difficult for the reader to believe the 360 rotation from baddie to sexy hero. For me the best villain is one who mirrors the hero and has a lot of the same qualities. The only difference is that the villain has embraced the bad side. This makes for a compelling read.

  8. Thanks for coming by Mary and Shelley :). That's interesting that you're not picky about villains, Mary. If I think about it, I don't think I am either- but that one with the "redeemed" villain really made me dislike that type ;).

    That's a great point Shelley- perhaps the closer in behavior the villain is to the hero in terms of qualities- the scarier they are? I like the idea of them being a mirror, but one where the other path was followed.

    Great comments ladies!

  9. I love villains who push the hero until he almost can't win... I like them to be smart and slick as well as a tad psycho.

    I do have a villain in my Werewolf series that will be redeemed by the final book, but he's an employee of the Big Bad and shows signs of a potential conscience, he just has a nasty habit of only caring about himself. LOL He'll be severely tortured before he wins his redemption too... :)

    But I'm with you I don't like villains who go soft by the end of a book. I like them to be bad and believe in their badness... :)

    Great post Marie!

    Lisa :)

  10. Thanks for coming by and commenting Lisa! Ya know, I was even thinking of cases where the henchman of the villain might turn out to be a decent guy towards the end. That wouldn't bother me as long as we see signs of goodness creeping in during the entire book....hmmm would even be sexy when done right ;).
    But yup, over all I want my big bads to stay BIG BAD!

    Thanks again for a great comment!