What Makes a Good Villain?
What makes a good villain you love to hate? There are many things which go into making great characters including the villains. You have your Dracula, Frankenstein, Hannibal Lector and others who you don’t forget, but why?
First of all, none of those were totally evil. They had some good in them. Think Adolf Eichmann. He was a loving family man, was kind to others and appeared to be normal in most respects yet murdered hundreds of thousands of people. When asked why, he said, “But they were Jews.” To him, the Jews were less than human and needed to be exterminated. He also believed he was doing the right thing in exterminating a useless people who were contaminating society.
All of the good villains have something which is driving them. A motivation. They didn’t get to be way they are without something happening to drive them to their beliefs. In the Jillian Factor, Franko and Billings are driven by greed. They see nothing wrong with kidnapping women, drugging them and making them service the men who want their fantasies fulfilled. Billings believes he is entitled to do what he wants to get to be one of the important men in society. He doesn’t care who he hurts to get there. Franko, beyond wanting to return home a rich man, is also driven by a need to fulfill his desires, not caring that he is hurting another human because he sees women as being less than human. They are here for the entertainment of men. In the book, this isn’t specifically stated, but you are able to see it during the trial.
Villains you love to hate, but why?
Many good villains believe they are correct in what they are doing and the problem is with the people around him/her. They are the good guy, doing good things for society or the world. The problem is how they go about doing their ‘good’ deeds. They are willing to sacrifice innocent people to achieve an end. What they are hoping to achieve may be good, but they are going about it in the wrong way where many people are hurt. In other words, they are the hero of their own story. They are the good guy, doing what it takes to save humanity.
Then you have those who believe they are above the law. They do what they want, feeling they are invincible. They aren’t, but they believe it. These are the ones who get people to trust them, then kill them like Gacey. These people are smart. It becomes a game for them, but most make a mistake sooner or later. James Patterson’s newest book ‘Invisible’ is written around a person who believes no one can find them, allowing them to get away with what they are doing as revenge for one specific thing while growing up. (It’s a book you need to read if you like a good mystery/thriller)
Many of the villains are good manipulators. They get people to believe them, before convincing them to suspend their initial belief that they, the villain, is wrong. Because they are good at persuasion, many people will flock to them. assisting them in what they are doing. By convincing those around them, they are right, they get away with what they are doing for extended periods of time. These villains actually believe they are the good guy, saving society or the world. Hitler and Eichmann could be included in this group. Hitler was a great speaker, convincing other to believe what he was telling them, because of that, they followed him down a path which set WWII into motion.
One of the characteristics of many villains is the need to be in control. They need to tell the others what to do and believe. Because they are looking at things from a different perspective, they come across as believable until someone realizes there are problem with the plan and are wrong in their beliefs and what they are doing. You don’t kill millions of innocent people to achieve the good end. In this respect, they show the lack of feelings for others. Those to be sacrificed for the good of all don’t matter.
Many villain are deceitful. Great liars and full of revenge for some perceived or real wrong done to them. They will stop at nothing to get satisfaction, but it isn’t until it’s too late, they discover it won’t work. These villains are ruthless in what they do to get what they want, not realizing revenge is best when you let the perpetrator do themselves in through their own actions.
Many villains could be heroes if they only changed their skewed points of view. They are the ones who see a good end, but are working to that end in a way which negates those who are in the way of achieving the end. These villains are likable, but a little off, seen as being misdirected. The problems come when they don’t listen to reason, believing they are correct and everyone else is wrong.
The bottom line
A good villain is one people relate to and can understand. Yes, there are some purely evil villains out there but even they have a few redeeming characteristics. Most villains are the hero of their own story and like what they are doing, believing they are right in what they are doing. The shunned lover who ends up killing women who look similar to the woman who pushed him away isn’t all bad. Villains need likable characteristics. They need to be real, easily related to like the hero.
You, the reader, need to be able to see why they are like they are and what makes them do what they are doing. Various emotions will drive them. Loss of love. Greed. Revenge. Jealousy. Hate. Bitterness. Anger. Usually something in their past warps what they see as good or bad. In Abilene, the driving force for the main villain is greed and unrequited love for her. You don’t see anything but the greed until meeting the person behind the scheme.
Yes, many villains can be considered insane. They don’t see what they are doing is wrong. Even if they do see it as wrong, the believe their reasons for their actions takes priority over the rules of society. Whatever is driving them, their consciousness doesn’t see it’s morally wrong. It’s the lack of a conscience which enables the villain to continue doing evil. They don’t see how it’s wrong.
As a author, you need to know why the villain is doing what he is doing to make him/her real. As a reader, you should enjoy the nasty villains without them being flat and boring.