villainy

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – The Dark Knight

I can’t stand reality TV shows. That being said, the inspiration for today’s post is one reality show in particular: Survivor. I haven’t watched it regularly since season two, but I caught enough of last season to know that Russel (a “short, stubby, tooth-missin’ garden gnome” according to host Jeff Probst) was a force to be reckoned with.

So when “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” started, I knew right away who I’d be rooting for: Russel, Villain #9. I hope he wins the million bucks—not because he needs the money, but for his sheer entertainment value. Compared to him, the “heroes” on the show are as exciting as Al Gore.

This got me to thinking about the villains I’ve created over the years. When I was kid writing about cowboys and gangsters (in their respective settings), I had a tendency to make the bad guys over-the-top, the MWAH-HA-HA!! variety. And I always killed them off at the end of the story, probably relishing their deaths a little too much.

But here’s what I’ve noticed about my current novel-length manuscripts: none of the villains die. (Oops—spoiler alert!) In a manuscript I finished last spring about a time-traveling private detective, I ended up liking the antagonist so much that I killed him off, then managed to bring him back from the dead. Ain’t time travel grand?

And in Waiting for You, the manuscript I finished last fall (currently under consideration at Folio Literary Management), my concept for the entire story started with the villain, and I added other characters into the mix as I plotted the outline.

So what is it that makes a good villain so fascinating (besides the wicked laugh)?