Friday, August 12, 2011

Villains Worth Hating

I am by no means an expert on this subject, but it's been on my mind. As this picture says, you have to know your enemy, and you have to make sure your readers know your enemy. If the reader is confused as to why they should hate your villain or why he IS the villain, you're not doing your job. (Unless your villain is supposed to seem like a good guy, in which case you're doing exactly what you need to do until you reveal his treachery.)

But I'm talking about the villains that you KNOW are villains, from the first time you see them. They may think what they're doing is right or better, but to the readers it is glaringly obvious that they are NOT the good guys. Like the first time my villain, Captain Lewin, appears, he tries to kill Kenna, my main character. That's a red flag for a reader.

So how do you make your readers hate them as much as you want them to? I struggle with this, because I often happen to like my villains and feel sympathy for them. Something made them this way. But in the end, what matters to your readers is how they are now, not how they got there (except in some cases...)

As you can tell, this post is very subjective, but in my writing I tend to have three types of hate-worthy villains:

1) The Killer
2) The Plotter
3) The Best Friend

1. The Killer

Colonel Miles Quaritch from Avatar
This doesn't mean that other kinds of villains don't kill. But the Killer is the villain who is very abrupt and, for lack of a better term I can think of, physical. He is focused on his goal, and nothing's going to stand in his way. He doesn't waste time trying to play with people's minds. If his goal is to take the Kingdom, he kills the King. He'll blame it on someone else, of course, but he is a man of action. A doer. And he actually likes to get his hands dirty himself.

I find Killers some of the easiest ones to hate. Reason one: they're killing people themselves, not just ordering their death. Reason two: they're usually very rough, unattractive people. At least that's the case in my stories. When he has a vendetta against someone, that person merely dying is not good enough. He wants to be the one to kill them.

See? Easy to hate.

2. The Plotter

The Plotter is someone who has everything planned out perfectly. He's the mastermind behind all the action. Usually, he likes to keep his hands clean, but he's not above stepping if his cronies fail him. He loves toying with people's emotions. When he himself does get involved, it's more mental than physical. But his cronies are one hundred percent walking battering rams.

While Killers are easier for me to hate off the bat, Plotters scare the heck out of me. If someone is able to get into your brain and manipulate your thoughts, even when you escape you're not safe. It's still your brain. The thoughts are still there. To me, they are the most dangerous villains, and they employ the Killers. Not always the case, but it is in my book.

3. The Best Friend

They don't actually need to be the MC's best friend--just someone that they trust. This is someone you have complete faith in throughout the entire book, and at the end it turns out they were against them the whole time. These guys are usually plotters, or cronies to the plotters. Think Barty Crouch Jr. posing as Mad-Eye Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It can also literally be their best friend, or the best friend of someone they care about, but a mentor or close acquaintance also fills this category.

Best Friends can sometimes be the most hated of the group. You put your faith and trust in them, and they let you down. Even when Laurent in Twilight tried to kill Bella, I felt this way. I was like "Wait, you helped them in the last book!" Imagine how I feel when it's actually the character's best friend! Betrayed. Hurt. Angry.

So that's what I've been thinking about lately. Hardly refined thoughts, but definitely an important point in writing your novel. If your MC doesn't have a villain worth hating, there's not enough conflict.

What are your favorite kinds of villains to write? To read? What kind of villain makes your skin crawl?



  1. Wow, I think my Big Bads are all Plotters. LOL!

    I think the Best Friend villains are so interesting, though, since there's always the possibility that not ALL of it was a lie. I don't write them often, but I like reading about them... even if I end up feeling as betrayed as the characters sometimes!

    Where Killers are concerned, I think the scariest one I can think of is Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men. GAH.

  2. I'm with Becky - I usually write Plotters, too. I don't have much of a stomach for Killers. And the Best Friend one is like the Plotter on steroids because you have to pull some The Sixth Sense magic to trick your reader the whole time.

    I love the categories you've broken them down into. I'd say my current villain is a Plotter and a Best Friend. Or a Lover, which is even worse.

    But he's not like fake-Mad-Eye, who you don't suspect until the very end. You suspect two characters all the way through my WIP. At some point, the bad guy's ID is clear, but the main character is so taken in, she has a hard time believing he's truly bad, which is probably going to be very frustrating for the reader.

  3. I definitely write Plotters, though in my latest book I did the Best Friend turns betrayer. These are really great classifications! For a famous plotter I immediately thought of Hannibal from Silence of the Lambs, though he isn't the main villian of the story.


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