Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Importance of Villains by Stuart R. West

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I believe every book should have a villain. Every genre needs them, a crucial component to a compelling dramatic arc. Romance books should have them too, hence the requisite love triangle. Readers want to root for two out of three people to fall in love. What's the fun of reading a book about a beautiful, untangled relationship?

As a reader, at times I find villains more interesting, particularly when the heroes are sort of the bland, never-can-do-anything-wrong archetype. Definitely as a writer, I have more fun writing the bad guys. Call it a form of therapy, vicariously channeling my inner villain in safe ways.

There are many great quotes about villains. Tom Hiddleston, the actor who plays Loki in the Avengers movies (who knows a few things about villains), said, "Every villain is a hero in his own mind." Many writers have echoed this sentiment. And that's what makes the enemy interesting in fiction. (Um, not so much in real life, of course.)

The more humanized, the more empathetic, the more understandable a villain is in a book, I find myself nearly rooting for him/her at times.  There's something to admire about such unfettered villains, joyfully embarking upon their path of mayhem, unbothered by social restraints. Liberating, even. Of course I keep this unpopular sentiment quiet more often than not.

And it helps when the villain is charming, intelligent, witty and just wants to go on his sociopathic, merry way. When someone has that much confidence, it's hard not to root for them. As I said...I enjoy writing these types of villains. Fun!

Which reminds me of another quote: "A hero is only as good as their villain." (For the life of me, I can't find the origin of this quote! Some say it was Batman...wasn't Batman a great Greek philosopher or something?). So when I pick up a book with a fascinating villain, I expect the hero to hold his own. This means a flawed, interesting hero, perhaps even one step away from villainy himself. The temptation of a hero is always compelling.

Now in writing my Killers Incorporated series (Secret Society and Strike with a third one on the way), I sort of stacked the odds against myself. My (anti) hero, Leon Garber, is a serial killer. But he's one with a code of honor, a disturbed individual who preys only on abusers. He has his reasons. But my challenges were two-fold: how to make Leon a hero; and to create an even more despicable villain so the reader has no choice but to cheer Leon on. And what's worse than an evil corporation that sponsors serial killers? Did I succeed? Beats me, that's up to the reader to decide.

Long live villains! (Just in fiction, though. I don't wanna hang out with them.)
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