Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Characters We Love To Hate

© Marta Stephens 2011 all rights reserved

They’re called the bad guys, the villains, antagonists and evil doers. Whatever label they wear, they’re the characters who bring stories to life—the nastier the better. Some are obvious monsters while others hide behind the disguise of normality only to hit us with a dummy punch at the end of the book.

Whether obvious or not, make no mistake, these characters are evil to the core, forces no human (except that impeccable good guy) can manage or conquer. And yet, no matter how horrible their deeds, we can’t quite get enough of them nor can we get them out of our minds.

Why is that?

As a writer, I love getting into the antagonist’s head. I want to know what influenced his life and made him turn off the straight and narrow. What wrong did he endure that turned him against all that is good? And just how far will this character go before reaching a breaking point?

I especially love making the antagonist seem like the friendly next door neighbor and slowly, ever so slowly let his hideousness come to life.

Here are a few villains from novels and movies:

  • Randall Flagg, Stephen King’s “The Stand” (and any other villain from King’s novels)
  • Hannibal Lecter, Thomas Harris’s “The Silence of the Lamb”
  • Moriarty, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Final Problem”
  • Cruella de Vil, Dodie Smith’s “The Hundred and One Dalmatians”
  • Darth Vader, Lucas Films, “Star Wars” (love the cape)
  • Bill Sikes, Charles Dickens’s “Oliver Twist”
  • Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson’s, “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”
  • Voldemort, JK Rowling’s, “Harry Potter”
  • Scarlet O'Hara, Margaret Mitchell's, "Gone With the Wind" (okay, so she's technically the protagonists, but she's one bad lady!)

 Just what is it that attracts us so?

About the author:

Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available in paperback and e-book and Kindle formats.

THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (2008), Bronze Medal Finalist, 2009 IPPY Awards, Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 978-1-905202-886-7
Tradebook: $15.99, E-book: $9.00

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book Festival, Top Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery).
ISBN: 798-1-905202-72-0
Tradebook: $15.50, E-book: $9.00



J D Webb said...

I think the attraction is that we want to see him/her get what's coming to them. Justice served.

Ron Adams said...

You hit my top two all time Villains with Flagg and Lecter. Was also thinking of Gino Fish, Tony Marcus, and Joe Broz, but they are more amoral then truly evil. And if I can throw a thought out and express an opinion I've made here before...doesn't a really good villain help us define what it is we admire about our protagonist?

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

What a wonderful post, Marta! Yes, I love to hate those bad guys so very much (just Lecter's name makes me cringe), and the righteous vengeance we feel when they get their come-uppance is almost unbearably sweet.

Ron, you're right. A great villain does help us define what's right with the good guys! Amen to that.

Stay warm, folks.


Marta Stephens said...

Yes, I agree. The villain IS/MUST BE the counter to the protag. But I find I truly enjoy creating the villain because he/she is everything I would/could never be and I love exploring the deepest, darkest areas of their minds. Nee-a-ha-ha!

Leander Jackie Grogan said...

Took a short break to read your post for today. Very thought provoking.

Intriguing reminder of how both good evil occupy space in our books and in our world. Sometimes in our desire to escape in the fictional world, we seek the justice that doesn’t pan out in the real world. We hope the writer will deliver that justice and maybe that will help us to believe it could also play out that way in our lives. In so many instances, the writer is living through a second battle with evil and an ending that should’ve been, but can no longer be, except in this new world. The more evil the villain, the more tasty the victory.

Leander Jackie Grogan

Marta Stephens said...

Exactly, Jackie. That’s what I meant to say—tried to say only you obviously said it far more eloquently, my friend! :)

PS: Thanks for stopping by.

Kim Smith said...

M- I just LOVE your diabolical mind *grin*

Anonymous said...

I would agree with the list! Gosh, Lecter goes to the absolute top of mine. I am ashamed to admit that I haven't read the novel. I am not sure I could, judging by my reaction to the movie.

In answer to your question about what attracts us to the antagonist:

I think Lecter is a prime example. A great antagonist has,in my mind, redeeming qualities as well. On some level, Lecter's willingness to help find the senator's daughter strikes a chord in us, something beneath the surface, something built into us that recognizes, or tries to, the good in everything. Even, dare I say, a cannibalistic character such as Lecter.
I, for one, would tire of a character who is all bad, or for that matter all good.
Just my two pennies.

Marta Stephens said...

Excellent points, Bryce. When we create a dual-sided character, one who is pure evil then displays a glimmer of good, we create tension and that’s always a good thing. If you enjoy suspense movies (I love them) and haven’t seen Kevin Costner’s “Mr. Brooks”, do take the time to view it. You’ll find a blurb about it here:
Costner plays the role of a good, father, husband, and successful business man, but harbors a dark sinister secret. By the time he tries to mend his ways, his evil has come knocking at his door. Excellent movie, excellent example of our discussion. Thanks so much for joining in!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, I loved that movie. Talk about a plot TWIST! Wow...