Villains can be a tricky proposition--in fiction as well as in our day to day world. We all hope we don't become entangled with malevolent people--ones who wish us harm--in real life. "Mad and Bad & Dangerous to know," was said of Byron, who was definitely NOT the kind of man you wanted to enchant your daughter. However, in a story, a villain provides driving force to a plot, and gives the hero and heroine an antagonist with whom to spar. Inside a book, we are safe; there is no actual blood spilled.
By the way, the gentleman on the spooky cover above is not the villain, although he is a shape-shifter. The villain in Zauberkraft: Black is "a man of wealth and taste" who also happens to be a vampire. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and vampires, certainly, have eternity in which to brood and plot.
Villains can be fun to write--my cohort were brought up on movie theater cowboy serials, thus today, in our most entertainment ready mode, we still enjoy a good melodrama. Here, the white hats win and the black hats are carted off to justice. And what could be more melodramatic than a movie like "The Heiress"? Though this picture was made before I emerged from my mother, it's one of those movies I vividly remember seeing for the first time. I remember long cold Skaneateles winter-frigid afternoons, wrapped in woolens and watching a small Zenith TV. The somber black and white flickering on the screen matched the mood of the frozen world outside.
For anyone who isn't familiar, here's the plot. A naive, lonely heiress falls prey to a narcissistic con man, whose plan is to marry her, drive her mad, and then have her committed so he can assume control of her fortune. At first, he is the caring, genteel lover of whom she's dreamed. He does every little romantic thing for her so that, without knowing anything about him, she accepts his proposal. In modern psychological parlance this is called "love bombardment." It's the full charm offensive with which the narcissist sweeps his target off her feet.
Next, the husband seduces the parlor maid and enlists her aid in his plot. Then the two of them begin to undermine his wife's trust in her sanity. Every night, he turns down the gaslight in the hall just a little bit, all the while staunchly insisting that his wife's "just imagining" it. The setting, in 19th Century America, where women were easily dispatched to asylums by husbands who had tired of them, smooths the villain's way.
Now, more than half a century later, "gaslighting" is a term with which most are familiar. Now, however, instead of referring to the actions of a single smooth sadist in an old film, it's commonly used by therapists to describe one of the ways in which a narcissist first undermines and then controls his relationship partner. In the real world, the narcissist is a dangerous creature, and lately it seems they are everywhere.
Back to the more innocuous world of fiction, where a narcissistic personality type makes a great villain. The narcissist, it turns out, has a sort of universal playbook. Reliably unreliable, considering only their own advantage, they love nothing and no one. In their world, empathy, or its cousin, sympathy, are incomprehensible, concepts "for suckers." They swallow up the people around them like a black hole. Absolute power, a constant stream of praise from sycophants combined with blind obedience to their whims is a narcissist's dream of heaven.
Some of the other traits that characterize a narcissist are grandiosity, an excessive need for admiration, disregard for the feelings of others, inability to accept criticism, and an air of entitlement and superiority. They target vulnerable, empathetic people who have something they want; they are masters of manipulation. When they don't get what they want, they become epic bullies, hounding their targets into submission.
After all, the true full blown malignant narcissist (at least, as a fictional character) is one who seems constantly in danger of "over the top." There is, after all, a wide spectrum of human behavior and one of the first duties of a writer is to convince the reader that the story is--on some level--believable. So many of my villains are somewhere in the dark gray end of the zone, not irredeemably black. Still, there are some terrors in these books of mine.
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