Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Thursday's Thugs: Bad to the Bone

I have read very few books with bad guys that were utterly without any redeeming qualities. As a writer, it is hard for me to write such a villain without leaving him one dimensional. A classic villain of that stripe, the kind we really want to see get what's coming to them, is rare. Most of the time we see this type of bad guy show up as a nemesis of comic book heroes. But if you look at the book "The Sociopath Next Door," you can get a better picture of how this could be done in a novel.

To be fair, I haven't attempted to write my villains this way yet, but I am considering it as an option. I have done this on occasion with murder victims. In my work in progress, the murder victim is the kind of man that brings out the urge to kill in everyone he meets. It is easier to make such a man the victim, because all his evil is past. Our contempt for him is blunted by the fact he already got what was coming to him. We are free to turn our attention and our emotional responses to the characters that have reason to want him dead. Making such a man the villain gives us a completely different sort of book.

Unfairness and bullying are part of what makes this villain tick. It's easy to have a sneaking sympathy for an underdog, even if he's evil; but when someone starts with all the advantages and uses them to crush his opponents ruthlessly, we delight in seeing him get his comeuppance. That kind of bad guy must be humorless, friendless, and void of both empathy and the ability to love. I think that is the key to villain who is "bad to the bone." He must be someone who has a driving need, nothing exists outside of his personal wants. He will go to any lengths to win.

Why would I write such a villain? Because somewhere in the back of my mind is the nagging question of whether or not I have the ability to do it well. I keep thinking that there must be a way to write someone so clinical, corrupt and utterly ruthless that we have to like him just a little, because he is having so much fun making everyone else suffer.

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