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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Villains By Sarah J. McNeal

By Sarah J. McNeal

Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes fighting to the death in the book by Sir Author Canon Doyle.

I have always loved villains. They drive the hero/heroine to do more than they thought they could. Without a really good villain, the story would just fall flat. Although I’ve written many stories without villains, the ones where I inserted a proper villain, have been the most fun to write. I’ll admit, a really good villain is difficult to develop. Villains believe they are right or entitled in some way to go up against the protagonist. But the reader must see how wrong the villain is at some point.
There are several types of villains: The pure evil villain, the forced to be evil villain, the villain who is right, the hero gone bad villain, the villain gone good guy, and the dumb villain (I personally cannot imagine a dumb villain being the only opposition to a convincing hero.)

Villains have different motives and different personality types. Well, that makes it even more interesting because readers have to figure out why the villain in a particular story has it out for the protagonist, how the villain is going to carry out the plan to thwart the hero, and how the culmination of all the villains efforts will present itself.  There has to come a point in the story where it looks like the antagonist is going to win and there better be a death-gripping something going on to lead the reader to believe the protagonist might not win. Protagonists cannot come out of this climax without some kind of collateral damage, either physically or emotionally or we’ll all know they didn’t fight hard enough to deserve winning.

Darth Vader, a good guy gone bad in the movies, STAR WARS

Now I’ll be the first to admit, I spend an extraordinary amount of time on Pinterest. It’s my way of brainstorming. Okay, maybe sometimes I just like to have some fun. I like to see what famous writers have to say about their process, protagonists and, of course, villains. I found some invaluable gems from famous authors and script writers.

What goes on in the mind of a villain? Here is a list of the inner workings of a villainous mind:

Does your villain love? Has the villain ever been loved?
Does your villain have low self-esteem? Where did it originate? What happened?
Is your villain lucky? Or is the villain a victim of bad luck?
Is your villain a leader? Who are his followers? Why do they follow him?
Is your villain blinded by his enterprise? Is he unable to see reason?
Is your villain evil, without morals, or mentally ill?
Who are your villain’s parents? Does your villain have parents?
Is your villain a hero? Who is the villain saving, and from what?
Is your villain seeking revenge? What happened? What was the catalyst?
Is your villain a loner? Why are they alone? Are they isolated?
Is your villain just following orders?

Loki, the villain in the THOR movies. A villain you love to hate and hate to love.

Another world nominator, Khan, in STAR TREK, a self-righteous villain.

Villains are so much fun to write, an author has to be careful not to give them more page time than the hero, unless of course, the villain turns out to be the real hero. I did not heed this message in my first published novel THE DARK ISLE. My evil queen, Mahara, almost ran away with the story. She enjoys doing evil things—a psychopath, if ever there was one. By the time I wrote the third novel in that trilogy, I managed to get Mahara under control. Of course, I still made my hero, Falcon, suffer.
Sometimes a villain makes us wonder if we would fare any better in their circumstances. Such was the case with Sid Effird in my novella, FLY AWAY HEART, in the Wildings series. His father, Edgar Effird, was the real villain of this story. Sid’s motives were very different from his father’s. I almost felt sorry for him.

In my novel, HARMONICA JOE’S RELUCTANT BRIDE, the first novel in the Wildings series, the crafty villain, Callie McGraw, is a villain on a mission. She is somewhat a victim from her cohort in crime, but Callie is quite capable of taking care of herself. It’s unfortunate that the heroine, Lola Barton, is mistaken for Callie, but necessary for the story line. Callie has no redeeming qualities. She is the perfect sociopath, completely without empathy. Manipulation and control are her tools to make people do what she wants them to do. She can be charming though, if it serves a purpose.
Villains take as much time, energy, and thought to write as the protagonist…maybe even more. But, oh boy, when there’s a villain in a story, I get geared up. I love to read about them, and I love to write them.

My favorite villain, Spike, in the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL the spin-off. He was complex, smart, funny, sarcastic, evil, and yet good. Josh Whedon creates the most interesting antagonists. You want to hate them, but you love them, too.

Angel in the Buffy and Angel series. Another good guy-bad guy-good guy villain.

What is your favorite type of villain? What makes you enjoy reading about that particular type? Have you written a story with a great villain? What kind of villain was your antagonist?

Just me, not a villain, but I could turn bad I suppose.
Sarah McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery, Victory Tales Press, Prairie Rose Publications and Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press, imprints of Prairie Rose Publications. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Hi Sarah,

    Enjoyable and entertaining post. Nicely done.

    Alan Rickman is my favorite villain. From Die Hard, to Quigley Down Under, to Harry Potter. I just love that guy. I like Loki and Spike as well, but overall, Mr. Rickman rocks a villain.

    1. Connie, have you written a villain into any of your work? What type villain would you want to put into your own story?
      Thank you so much for coming and commenting.

    2. Connie,

      I agree wholeheartedly about Alan Rickman as a villain. He was fabulously over the top as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood.

    3. Connie, I have to agree with Kaye about Alan Rickman as the villain in Robin Hood. He stole that movie. He does make a great villain--and I love him as a hero, too. He was adorable in Sense and Sensibility. Dreamy!

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Great post on villains--I love that list of personality questions. I think the main thing in making a villain convincing is that there must be a reason behind why he's become a villain. We can't say "he's mean just because he is"--there has to be a compelling reason as to why he's turned that way.

    Connie, I love Alan Rickman as a villain too! Bruce Dern was another good one.

    Great post, Sarah. I enjoy villains--as you know. LOL


    1. Cheryl, you already know how much I love your villains. I agree; every villain has a backstory. It's so interesting to find out what it was. Of course, there are the few just born with something broken or miss-wired in their nature. A sick psychopath for instance. I know you wrote a psychopath into FIRE EYES. I think I loved that villain because he had not one redeeming quality...just sick to the core.
      Thank you so much for taking the time to drop in and comment. I appreciate it.

  3. I think one of the best villains I've ever read was in Cheryl's FIRE EYES. They can be so difficult to write but are so important. Great post, Sarah!

    1. Thank you, Kristy! That just makes my day! You know, my sister told me she couldn't finish that book because of Fallon. She said, "I just can't bear to think of those thoughts in your head." LOLLOL I knew I had done my job.

    2. You definitely did your job, Cheryl!!

    3. Kristy, I totally agree with you about Cheryl's villain in FIRE EYES. I also liked Cheryl's villain in SWEET DANGER. He had something bad in his past that turned him into a monster. I love the kind that almost make me feel sorry for them.
      Thank you for coming, Kristy.

    4. Cheryl, at least your sister read part of it. My sister hasn't read a single thing I've ever written. Too bad your sister didn't read that story to the end. She would have closed the book with a big smile on her face.

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  5. Love, simply love villians. You hit upon some great ones, with questions and descriptions that were 'spot on' as they would say. I suppose having spent twenty years dealing with delinquents, and loving almost every minute, might have something to do with my affinity for villians. LOL. Great Post. Thanks for the nudge. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines.

    1. Doris, I can't take all the credit for those villain questions. I saw them in a psychology about writing page and was immediately fascinated by the many types of villains. Are you going to write a story using a delinquent from your experience? What were you doing for 20 years that hooked you up with kids gone bad?
      I appreciate your support by coming over and commenting. You make all of us feel so good.

    2. I started working with trouble teens while in college and after moving to Colorado worked in a juvenile detention facility for many years. And I loved it I may add. Doris

  6. Some food for thought on villains. I sometimes get annoyed with book villains who are so outrageously gruesome or evil just because they are don't always strike me as being believable. I like villains with agendas, or past experiences that have turned them to their evil ways, or some form of explanation for why they think what they think or do what they do. Thanks for your thoughts.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

  7. I love the kind of villain who is only considered villainous because the story isn't told from his or her perspective. Flip the perspective, and the villain becomes the hero.

    Every character is the hero of his own story. Villains aren't necessarily "bad" or "mean" or "evil" or any of those negatives. They're not necessarily even "damaged." They're just the ones who get the blame for the hero's trouble. ;-)

    1. Oooh, I like that idea, Kathleen. I like when the villain turns out to be the hero, too. Black and white characters are no fun. Except for sociopaths and psychopaths, every villain has a story and a reason for what they do. I've read stories where I felt the villain just needed a chance to earn his own happiness and show he wasn't as bad as all that. Lindal Lael Miller wrote Two Brothers, a book with 2 stories where the good brother gets a happy ending, and then in the next story, the outlaw brother gets his happy ending, too.
      Thank you for addressing that twist in writing villains and for always being so supportive and encouraging.

    2. Sarah, I read that book years and years and years ago, too, and what I liked most about it was the way Lael-Miller redeemed the villainous brother -- who actually wasn't villainous at all, as it turned out. He simply had his own challenges, and those challenges set him in opposition to the "good" brother in the first story. Several other authors have done the same thing, only in novel form. Lori Handeland's Charlie and the Angel redeems a particularly nasty outlaw from a previous story.

      I wish I could write companion stories like that, where the villain from the first tale gets his own happily-ever-after in the second. My heroes always seem pretty villainous, though, and the real villains keep dying on me. :-D

    3. Kathleen, I wish I could write a duo of good/bad hero, too. So far, I haven't had a villain worth redeeming or maybe I just don't have it in me to redeem them. But I sure do think it would be fun to write a duet like that. I oughtta write that down for future consideration.

  8. Robyn, I have to agree with you on the whole too gruesome to believe comment. I also know in real life there are villains who are gruesome like that cannibalistic guy, Jeffry Donner. Unless a main character in a story is being stalked by such a sick villain, I can't see a reason to write that sicko into it. Like you, I am drawn to a villain who has a reason to oppose the protagonist, one with an agenda who feels they are the injured party. A little backstory on a villain makes the villain even more interesting.
    Thank you for coming by and leaving a great comment, Robyn.

  9. I've written a few books with villains. My two favorite villain's were, Carla, a woman who is jealous of the main character and makes it her mission in life to try and destroy her marriage. And then there Was Elliot, a real psychopath, I start the book out by him sitting in his garage putting jelly on his fingers and then when an unsuspecting fly comes along he pulls its wings off and eventually smashes it between his fingers, loving the way it feels. Great subject Sarah.


    1. Barbara, I think psychopathic villains are the scariest. They do what they do for no particular reason...just to satisfy some sick need or desire. Creepy!
      Thank you for sharing your villains with us.

    2. Sarah,

      One of my villains and his sidekick are amalgamations of several male supervisors whom I loathed.*grin* I combined their names and their abhorrent leadership and personal characteristics and gave these qualities to the two villains. It was great writing them into the story. It was even more satisfying when I killed one off and ruined the other character's career. lolol It was cathartic, in fact.

    3. Oh my goodness, Kaye, I love that you did that. You can brutalize them as much as you want and no cops will come to arrest you. Isn't it great to get revenge in a story? Who needs a therapist when you can write. I'm so glad you came and gave me a laugh as well as validation, Kaye. Thank you.