Archive for March, 2012

Villainous Villainy

March 18th, 2012 by Susie

The other day, I started listening to an audiobook of a highly regarded scifi classic.  I was enjoying it, the world building was interesting and the characters were compelling.  Until I got to the chapter introducing the villains.  They couldn’t have been more one dimensional if they’d tied their victims to railroad tracks while twirling their mustaches and laughing maniacally.

I bring this up not to malign a well beloved book (I’m not going to name the book, since it has a devoted fan base and I don’t want them to come after me.  Besides I’m not that far in, they could get more complex later, I don’t want to judge too early), but because I fear crafting well rounded villains is one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer.  I ended up getting into a fascinating discussion on a messages board for writers about what makes a well written villain.

Everyone had a different answer, but a few things came up most often.  Motivation, a compelling villain should do their villainous deeds for clear reasons, other than they’re EVIL, and or because the writer needs them to do it to move the plot along.  Villains that think of themselves as the hero of the story, was also mentioned.  Though others said they enjoyed a villain that enjoys being evil.

It got me thinking about the villains that stand out for me, the villains that I’ll never forget.  So me being me, I made a list!

1) Scorpius from Farscape, both the television series and comics. 
Scorpi has a lot going for him as far as villainy.  He is the product of a interspecies rape.  Tortured for being an abomination by his father’s species, his incompatible DNA made him weak and in constant unbearable pain.  He learns to overcome his weaknesses, and tolerate the pain, with one goal in mind, destroying the species that made his life hell.  And he’ll do anything to accomplish it.  Clear motivation, check.
He also sees himself as the hero of the story, ridding the universe of the violent, oppressive Scarrans.  Yet he also obviously relishes his scheming and backstabbing.  To top it all off he has one of the scariest appearances ever put on screen, an emaciated corpse like body clad in S&M style leather, made all the more creepy by his patrician accent.

2) Pobadiah Unkshuss from Moonshadow.

I don’t know how many people will have heard of him, or the comic he appears in, but he is one of the most memorable villains of all time for me.  His full title is the Pious Rabbi Pobadiah Unkshuss.  Though he calls himself a rabbi and wears the robes of a Cardinal, it’s all an act to make him appear powerful and respectable.  Looking like a cross between the Grinch and a lizard, everything about him oozes evil, and I was screaming for him to get his comeuppance.

3) Bellatrix Lestrange from Harry Potter.

Bellatrix came up a lot in the discussion.  She’s just crazy, and a zealot, and scary as all get out.

4) Iago from Othello.

He taps into everyone’s fear that someone close to you might be secretly out to get you.  He is the ultimate manipulator.  He manages to get his enemy to kill his innocent wife and then himself, all while keeping his own hands clean.  And why?  Because the guy got the promotion he wanted.  In other words, Iago is slightly disappointed, cue utter decimation of rival.  That is a bad dude.
(By the way, murder is not an okay response to adultery, real or faked.  Ahem–Othello.)

5) Vizzini from the Princess Bride.

Never go against a Scillian when death is on the line!  Nuff said.

6) Jack Chili from the Bones of the Moon.
If very few people will have heard of Pobadiah, almost no one will have heard of Jack Chili, the main antagonist of one of my favorite books.  Of all the names on this list, he is the one that gives me nightmares.  He is basically a boogie man, hunting the protagonist, Cullen, in her dreams. There is no real explanation for why he is after her, and he has the power to do or be anything.  That sounds like a pretty flat, cliched character, but the execution is terrifying.  He is literally inside her head, and can access everything she is afraid of.  I’m really scared of Jack Chili, you guys.

7) The Joker, from Batman.

Clowns are scary anyway, but make one violent, unpredictable, and psychotic, and you’ve got one of the most iconic villains of all time.

Honorable mentions form the board: Maleficent, Darth Vader, Voldemort, and the Captain from Pan’s Labyrinth.

So who makes you want to hide under the covers?