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Bad Guys and Gals -- How We love to hate them!

by Sue Viders and Becky Martinez

Villains... those bad guys and gals that you hate, but remember. In fact the really great villains are sometimes remembered more than the other characters in the story. How does a character get to be such so revered, so infused with the love/hate emotions we have?It’s because they have one or more of the following motivations:

Revenge - the powerful need to “get back” at someone for those wrongs, whether only perceived or real

Power - wanting control over almost anything, another person, another company, or another nation or country

Greed - the overpowering lust for money or “things”

Perhaps they have a religious or political agenda... sigh, don’t get me started on the politics in Washington or anywhere else in the world, and in some cases the overriding actions of the villain  is caused by a simple case of insanity.

Then we have the comic book characters and the supernatural creatures, such as the vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts and all those aliens from other planets and universes. I do so love some of them. Take the Joker and many of the “thugs” Marvel Comics have brought to the big screen.

However we do want the “good” guys to win, but without the “bad” guys there really is no story, no conflict, no reason to read the book.
As a writer we absolutely need the evil guys and gals for the following reason:

Without a villain there simply is no suspense in a story, no conflict, no need to keep turning the pages to see how the hero overcomes and defeats the villain.

If you do your character carefully, the reader will remember the villain even more than the hero. Let’s consider the follow characters:

Count Dracula... do you have any idea who the hero was in these stories? I don’t.

Audry II from the Little Shop of Horrors. Great plant. Can you even remember the little guy who tried to kill her?

Crulla De Vil was more of a main character in 101 Dalmations. Again, do you remember the other characters as well?

Then there are those villains, secondary to the main protagonist, who also stay in our minds:

The Wicked Witch of the West from The Wonderful World of OZ. who we want to really get caught so Dorothy can go home.

Dr. Moriarty from the Sherlock Holmes books, who gave Sherlock a rough time

What about loved Hans Gruber in the Die Hard film or  Katharine Parker in Working Girl? We really wanted them to get theirs...

Then there are the “turn-coats”... who at first we think are the bad guys but turn out to be a good guy. For example take Sam Gerard, from The Fugitive. He  was a good guy who seemed like a bad guy but then really turned out to be good, but through most of the movie he really, really wanted to capture Dr. Richard Kimball. 

And think about those villains who can turn into a franchise all on their own?

Dr. Hannibal Lector was a bit player in Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, though he was pretty spooky as he guided serial killer Francis Dollarhyde, but then he played a larger role in Silence of the Lambs when he assisted FBI trainee Clarice Starling, but he was still a vicious killer who would do anything to escape. And then he hit "star" villain status when Anthony Hopkins brought him to life on the screen. Suddenly readers and movie goers wanted more of this crazed character, and the rest, as they say is history. More books followed as well as a TV series.
Bottom line - Every story needs a villain, from Lady Macbeth to Voldemort. And you, as their creator, need to know how to write them.

We’re going to be presenting a special class on villains next week. Please join us as we talk about how you can come up with villains who can chill and thrill your readers, and perhaps – like Hannibal Lector – clamoring for more.  For more information on our work shop, go to and click on Events.
What about you? Who are your favorite villains?


  1. Villains are so fun to write! We can channel our inner evil, or turn our real life nemesis into something the whole world can join us in hating. Ha! :) I do have fun creating my bad guys, and I usually have more than one. What's interesting is when you pit one bad guy against the other, then stand back and watch the effect the winner will have on the good guy. The twists and turns are delicious. Sounds like a great class, ladies!

  2. Karen, you are so right. As writers, we can make our villains do things we've always wanted to do but never could actually do. The idea of pitting one bad guy against another sounds like it would make for a great story.


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