Fiction Writing with Storytellersunplugged | What makes a great villain?:
Who or what are your top ten villains? … What is it about these particular characters that makes them so delicious, or terrifying, or both? What turns YOU on in a villain? What particular qualities are you responding to?
Thought about villains on and off this past week and finally threw together a list this morning. It seems my favored villains fall into several broad categories.
The first being puppet masters:
- Hannibal Lecter
- John Doe from Se7en
- Elijah Price from Unbreakable
- Teddy Gammell from Memento
- Barney/Raymond from The Vanishing /The Golden Egg
These villains manipulate circumstances to work for them. They’re smart, they plan. In several of the above cases, it might be argued that they win out over the hero. They are by far my favorite type of villain and considering the plots Eric has come up with he harbors some liking of this category as well. This bodes well for our writing.
The second group is smaller. For me, these villains do what they do because they feel they have to, though they often take the less morally high road to satisfy their necessities:
- Al Swearengen from Deadwood
- Roy Batty from Blade Runner
- King Haggard from The Last Unicorn
- Lestat from Interview with the Vampire
Despite what compromises they may have made, they are generally slightly more sympathetic character than the first group. While still smart, they are generally left reacting to their circumstances. Also inclined to have minions.
And occasionally, a villain should just be a villain:
- Mr. Chance from Plunkett & Macleane
Mr. Chance will get things done if you step out of his way and let him. His zeal only thinly veils his sociopathic behavior. He is distasteful and that’s an aspect of villainy that shouldn’t be overlooked.
In my list of “also rans”:
- Count Adhemar (or any villain Rufus Sewell has played)
- Hans Gruber (or any villain Alan Rickman has played)
- Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
These characters are a lot of fun, but I’m unconvinced that they can be realistic villains. They are flamboyant and glib, but maybe too compulsive to truly get things done.