Characters We Love to Hate

This week, one of the foxes asked, “What do you think makes a good villain in a book or story?”

villainBack when I was young, the definition of villain would have been “the bad guy” in a western or crime drama, or the monster in a horror movie. But now I write and read romance, so I suppose my definition has shifted a bit. Generally speaking, my idea of a villain is anyone who stands in the way of the hero reaching his goal. This person doesn’t necessarily have to be evil – he just needs to have a goal that’s at odds with the hero’s goal (or heroine’s). The villain could even be a nice person (I’m thinking of the grandfather in The Boxcar Children – he is thought to be mean, but he’s not).

So what do I like to see in a villain or antagonist?

DWPI guess I need to understand a little something about what makes him or her act that way. I really have a hard time getting invested in a story if someone is just destroying people and things for no reason at all. Why is that spoiled brat so determined to get the guy? Why is the wealthy real estate mogul trying to buy the entire block and tear down the historic landmark? I know there are villains for whom the answer is “just because” – but I have trouble getting invested in those stories. What makes a true conflict for me is when I have a little bit of empathy for the opposing side. Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada treats Andrea horribly, but we see Miranda’s insecurity when it comes to her relationship with her daughters, her hurt over her divorce, and her position as editor-in-chief of Runway magazine and we understand – but can’t quite forgive – her actions.

MASHI also prefer it if the villain has some smarts. If he bumbles his way through the entire story, then it seems he’s operating more on luck than motivation and drive. An opponent with enough smarts to keep the protagonist on his toes is much more interesting to read about or watch. Back when I watched television, one of my favorite series was M.A.S.H. Several minor characters stood in the way of Hawkeye’s plans, but Charles Emerson Winchester III was my favorite. Though Dr. Winchester was annoyingly pretentious, he was unquestionably intelligent and he often showed he had a heart. On the other hand, Sergeant Rizzo was simply annoying, Major Burns was bothersome, and Colonel Flagg was unbearable.

Of course, the villain has to fail – at least to some degree. But I’ve seen several series in which the antagonist in one book becomes the hero or heroine in another. That means the villain has to have some redeeming qualities or else we won’t be able to accept him/her as the protagonist later on. It also means that the villain has to survive through the major conflict. Unless it’s a ghost story…

About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page:
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8 Responses to Characters We Love to Hate

  1. jeff7salter says:

    excellent dissertation on the makeup of the bad guys/girls.
    Until recently, I had not thought much about (as a writer) attempting to get the reader to wonder WHY the bad guy was bad.
    Now my brain is swirling with possibilities for my own column this week.


  2. Diane Burton says:

    This is a great topic, Patty. In my 1st book, Switched, my villain hated the way the government treated her nation/species. Resentment & anger fueled her role as villain.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I remember that villainess, Diane! That motivation definitely gave her a lot more depth. Thanks for stopping in!


  3. Great post. It is a lot more interesting when we do know a little about what is driving the villains.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. (Again, my previously posted comment is missing!) I agree that a good villain doesn’t have to be a Snidely Whiplash, mustache-twirling, tie-the -damsel-to the-train-track type. You have really given me food for thought for Friday.
    [Lee Van Cleef! One of the most attractive bad-guys of all time!]

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Tonette, I saw your comment directed to me, but it was on Janette’s post. I’m sure you’ll have a fabulous conclusion to the discussion on Friday!


  5. pjharjo says:

    I, too, had a hard time with this week’s blog. You pulled it off really well! I’d never thought of anyone as a real villain in MASH. I only saw them as annoyances. LOL!


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