Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I Heart Villains!

How's that for an eye-grabber?

But it's true, in a way. While I like heroes (really, who doesn't like a hero???) I have to admit that there are times when I prefer the villain. Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I've even rooted for the villain, though I knew he (or she) didn't stand a chance.

To me, villains are intriguing because I don't believe people start out evil. I don't have any evidence to back it up, but I like to think that humans are basically good and villains somehow get shoved off the path and into the dark side, if you will. And that journey fascinates me. I love to know how good people go bad. What's the catalyst that makes a decent person become evil?

Plus, I think it's more difficult to write a villain, and give him or her motivation. Motivation's extremely important because, without a good motivator, a villain comes across like a cartoon character. The bad guy, twirling his moustache as he ties the girl to the train tracks, if you will (though I have to confess, what exactly is twirling a moustache???) Villains are far more complex than that - or at least they should be. There has to be a reason why they are villains and simply because "they want to rule the world" just doesn't cut it. For the most part, we'd all like to rule the world - but we don't all become Hitler or Stalin to do it.

So there's that delicate balance between believability and buffoonery and it's very important. The more evil a villain is, the more complicated he (or she, because women can be just as evil as men, you know) is as a person.

Of course, not all evils are alike, either. They aren't all out to dominate the world by force. And I don't think that any one event can make a person truly evil. Think about the Star Wars movies. Darth Vader didn't just **poof** go bad overnight. His decline (or rise, depending on how you look at it) took a series of events stretched through three movies - a little at a time, until Padma's death pushes him over the edge. Or in the Harry Potter series, Snape didn't just become the miserable, angry, rotten guy he is by the time Harry gets stuck with him. Rowling waits until the later books, but she does reveal what makes Snape, Snape. And it just might change the way readers feel about him by the last page of the last book. Something to think about, for sure.

It's easy to make a villain a cartoon, but why would you want to? A writer goes to great lengths to create believable heroes and heroines, why get lazy on the villain? Besides, sometimes it's fun to write about lousy people. And really, the more realistic they are, the more they can then torture the hero and heroine. After all, that's what revs up the story, isn't it? Super-agent Donald Maass preaches the beauty of torturing your characters as much as possible, it's what helps build a story and add tension and conflict and make people want to turn those pages to see how (or even if) the hero and heroine escape.

So while I love heroes, there are those times when I'll take a well-written, totally fleshed out bad guy instead. Sometimes, they are just more interesting.


Jen said...

I heart villians, too. Snape is a great character!

I have to say, that's one reason I really like a good anti-hero...they're much more interesting than a plain vanilla hero, imo. :)

Marian said...

I think you can only twirl the end of a mustache if it's long enough - maybe not Fu Manchu long, but getting there. Not sure how this could ever be seen as villainous, though - in any day and age it would probably just look funny.

As for Snape... well, I don't know if it's because the readers responded to Rowling's excellent humanization of him, or because he's played by Alan Rickman, but some readers more than heart him. IIRC there was one woman who maintained a fantasy life where she was married to Snape - and maintained an actual online community to share in this.

Kim said...

The best villain is one you find yourself almost rooting for in the end, and Snape definitely falls in that category. He's in my top ten (oh, new idea for a blog post!!!)