Friday, April 27, 2007


I work with this woman, who is dedicated to her job, thorough, detail oriented and one of the rare people who really cares about what she does.
She’s also antagonistic, rude, aggressive, completely unwilling to see another point of view, or even consider another’s opinion and strongly believes she is the only person in a large organization who has a clue what they’re doing.
There is no question this woman is the villain of my little workgroup.

She is uniformly acknowledged to be extremely difficult to work with, and dealings with her are painful at best.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s become a well of inspiration to my little writer’s mind.

She has these two sides to her personality, one really commendable, and the other incredibly hard to deal with, but side by side they make her a difficult person to evaluate, or dislike outright.

I admire her passion and her attention to detail, but I’d happily never have another dealing with her.

But isn’t that the key to a really compelling villain. The dual nature of their personalities. Let’s face it, villains who are just plain evil are boring. But make a person straddle the line between good and evil, right and wrong, and their path becomes fascinating.

The best villains do this.

One of my favs is Balthar from Battlestar Galactica, who has at times through the show been insane, brilliant, attempted to do the right thing, but is hampered by a fatal weakness and cowardice. But watching him struggle has been incredibly entertaining.

Or take the movie The Departed. There are several villains in this movie, but the key antagonist is the Matt Damon character. A man undone by a loyalty given as a child and a need to be perceived as successful. We watch as his grasp on his situation grows increasingly tenuous every moment of the movie. He’s a character almost as compelling and sympathetic as the hero.

But aren’t the best villains flipsides of the hero. Losing to their fatal flaws instead of overcoming them, like the protagonist does.
A villain has to be a worthy adversary to the hero. But more than that. We give our heroes depths and flaws, and on the flipside we have to do the same thing for our villains, or they’ll fall flat in comparison.

Because the most interesting villains are mirror images of the hero. They reflect the hero’s strengths and weaknesses.
And sometimes they make the book/movie/tv show. Anyone who’s seen Silence of the Lambs would back me on this.

And sometimes the villain becomes the hero.
Take the Soprano’s, a show I need to see. But is Tony Soprano a hero, or villain, or both? Molly, could you chime in here.
Or, in Interview with the Vampire, where the Vampire Lestat became the hero of the second book.

Give me a compelling villain and I'm hooked. Give me a villain who's as complex as the hero and I'll sing the praises of the book/movie/Tv show till I'm hoarse.


Christine said...

I love Baltar for that very reason! He's a bad guy, we all know it, but there is that small part of us that agree with what he's done and how he's done it.

I think that's the appeal of Dexter as well. I also love it when a writer takes a villian and makes them the hero of the next story. It's very cool.

Sinead M said...

I so agree. I think the most interesting shows are sort of making the hero the villain, or giving them villainous tendencies.
Love Dexter for that reason.

Perhaps that's why Anne Stuart's heroes work so well, they really walk a fine line between hero and villain at times. Very day and very conflicted.

Kimber said...

I love, love, love a good villain (not that I can ever spell that word without using Google as my quick and easy dictionary).

The "he is bad because he's insane" 1D type drive me up the wall. I've worked with some insane people (completed their taxes, actually) and insane people are even more complex than regular folks (at least on the outside).

Maureen McGowan said...

Fantastic post, Sinead. The best villains have some redeeming qualities, or some trait that makes them relatable, makes us fear (realize?) we all have villainous traits within ourselves.

MaryF said...

I love complex heroes that you could almost root for. The first one who comes to mind is The Mummy from The Mummy movies. Everything he does is for love of Anaksunamun.

T-Bag in Prison Break is one of the most compelling characters, and he's BAD.

Margaret Moore said...

I want to know the "why" of the villain, too (motivation and backstory). Why does he do the things he do? Why does he believe he's justified? What happened to him that he honestly thinks he deserves what he wants and thus can do whatever he can to get it?

When I'm planning a villain, I think of him (or her) as a person who could have been a hero or heroine, but somewhere along the way, they got "twisted" and turned to the dark side, whereas the hero or heroine had someone or something that enabled them to go the other way.

And I heartily agree with Kimber that the least interesting villain is one where insanity is the sole explanation for his actions.

I find T-Bag disturbing in no small part because we know so much about him now and I find myself sympathizing *and I don't want to.* I actually stopped watching the Sopranos because I found myself liking Tony too much.

You know who's really scary to me in that show? I think his name's Pauly Walnuts. He looks like somebody you'd see in a hardware store buying nails to fix his deck, and yet he's a ruthless killer.

Sinead M said...

I love T-Bag, so bad and in the second season, so sympathetic at the same time. And loved, loved, loved Kellerman. Those two made the show watchable in the second season.

Sigh, have so much TV to catch up, what is it, ten seasons of the Soprano's..

Amy Ruttan said...

Oh ya, I love villains. I just love them. They make things so interesting.

My favorite Disney villain has to be Malfecent from Sleeping Beauty. She's the first villain I can remember.

Lestat is an anti hero. Everyone loves him, but he's turned people into vamps and done some really bad things. I still like him and the rest of the vamps as well.

Great post.

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