On a villain’s true worth: villains serve an important function in society: they allow us to play out our deepest, darkest fantasies without suffering the moral and/or legal and/or spiritual consequences.
By Max Everhart
I wanna be bad.
Come on, it’s fun to be naughty, but what’s even more fun (and safer) is reading about other people misbehaving. Ah, literary villains. How I envy you all. From contract assassins to femme fatales to serial killers who hunt serial killers (shout out to Dexter!), villains just have more fun than the rest of us so-called civilized folk. What’s more, villains serve an important function in society: they allow us to play out our deepest, darkest fantasies without suffering the moral and/or legal and/or spiritual consequences. If only I could be a walking ID for just one day. . . but, alas, I must reluctantly abide by our government’s laws and my own conscience, a nuisance though they both may be.
But the question I want to ponder today is not why do we dig villains, but how are they created? How do writers draw us deeper into the story using bad guys and gals? To answer that question, I wanted to provide an excerpt from The Short Drop by Matthew Fitzsimmons. Apart from being a suspenseful and well-paced book incorporating politics, cyber-hacking, kidnapping, murder, and incest, it has an eerie and alluring bad guy.
Tinsley had made a life-time study of the way time affected people. The way it toyed with their good judgment and perspective. Made them impatient or rash. Made them take irrational risks. Time was the great leveler, and neither money nor power held sway over its relentless march. That was precisely what made Tinsley so good at his work. . .Most people were overawed by time. They allowed time to bully them, fearing that it was passing too fast or too slowly, sometimes both simultaneously. But not Tinsley. He was indifferent to the passage of time, and it flowed around him effortlessly. . .When he was a young man and still plied his trade with a rifle, Tinsley once spent twenty-six days in a sewer drain in Sarajevo. . .Tinsley lay in burbling stream of human waste, waiting for a shot. . .
Fine, okay, maybe this Tinsley character didn’t have so much fun while sitting for a month in human feces waiting to kill a guy, but it’s pretty cool to read about it. As are the philosophical bits about time.
And that’s how you hook a reader: reveal unique aspects about a character. That’s what I did in my latest work Ed, Not Eddie, which has a suspect that, aside from being named after a piece of famous American junk food, sells pot out of the back of a 1957 Chevy. (Buy the book for more).
The best villains enthrall us in a variety of ways. Some use humor, others terror. Some, like Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, entice us with their words, and others, like Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old men, are more taciturn. Whatever the method, villains have the capacity to be hilarious and revolting in equal measure. . .and that’s why we love to hate them.
My Desert Island Top 5 Literary Villains. Leave a comment, and tell me yours.
- The Judge from Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
- Professor Moriarty from The Final Problem
- Patrick Bateman from American Psycho
- Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
- Hannibal Lecter from Red Dragon