We love to hate them, and sometimes we hate to love them.
Either way, whether as readers or writers, we forge a connection to the villains in our novels. From way back, I discerned that I embrace a certain affection for the villainous, the crafty, the bad-guy, if you will, in many a story and movie. It perplexed me, and downright troubled my poor parents, I imagine.
It’s no well-kept secret that I harbored a preference for Ramses in the Ten Commandments, his declarations of, ‘So Let It Be Written, So Let It Be Done,’ raising the goose-flesh on my bony arms as I ridiculed the silly Nefretiri for chasing after Moses, who didn’t want her anyway! Likewise, in the novel and the subsequent movie, The Last Of The Mohicans, Magua fascinated me with his devilish war paint, brutal depiction, and harsh countenance. And who could not love Doc Holiday, a known drunkard and gunslinger, who taunted those he deemed inferior to himself, holding loose morals but possessing a wit and charm sufficient to curl your toes? Dare we have this discussion (at a paranormal site, no less!) without mentioning Bram Stoker’s Dracula? One can not help but be beguiled – even knowing what he is, what he inflicts on his victims.
Now, let me say that there are villains wholly unlikable, utterly irredeemable. We don’t have to think long to conjure the likes of serial killers and war criminals – which are in a category completely outside the one I speak of. Those…well, we’ll leave that for another discussion.
So, what is it that creates the villains that I, and many like me, dare to adore? I’ve pondered the question myself, and have come to an interesting conclusion. It’s their redeeming factor. Can we find a redeeming quality that sparks in us the want for them to mend their ways, to turn away from their vile behavior, to succumb to love, faith, or mercy?
The event or emotion that motivates our villain is often the very thing that draws us near; likewise, the lack of these leaves a void, impressing a sense of unrepentant evil. A man bent on revenge after losing his lover, wife or child in brutal fashion…a woman manipulating men in power to gain her own in a culture that oppresses those of her gender…a lover enraged at a betrayal committing a crime of passion… Within these, we can forge a connection and empathize, we can share in their sorrow, or cry out with them for an avenging. Even if we balk at and protest their actions. Even if we wish them to change course and walk a different path.
Crafting a villain is a careful, thoughtful endeavor if we wish our audience to love to hate them – or hate to love them. Ha! In The Third Fate, I decided to craft a variety of villains. In the character Gwendolyn, I wanted the audience to ‘love to hate her’. She’s downright malevolent! Wielding her sexuality much as a gladiator would a sword, she cuts down any in her path, hacking mercilessly at the egos of many. She harbors no loyalty, no love. In short, she is completely self-serving, and makes no apologies for it. In contrast, the three child-like Fates, are likewise bent of self-gratification. But their innocence tips the scales, sliding them into the category of ‘we hate to love them’ – even though we do.
What traits endear a villain to you?