Wednesday, July 20, 2011

RTW: Cue Maniacal Laughter

Recently I discovered the fantastic YA Highway, and this week seems like the perfect time to participate in one of their Road Trip Wednesdays. As they explain it,  

 Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where YA Highway's contributors post a weekly writing- or reading-related question that begs to be answered. In the comments, you can hop from destination to destination and get everybody's unique take on the topic.

This Week's Topic:
Who are your favorite literary villains/antagonists, and why? 

I like intelligent antagonists – my villains need to talk a good game and wield some serious wit. Part of my Shakespeare obsession comes from this: hello, Iago and Richard III! And from contemporary authors there are the brilliant Hannibal Lecter and the deliciously deceptive Tom Ripley the films are great but the books are even better. I love the gentlemanly villains and maybe-villains of Gaiman’s Neverwhere as well. 

Similar and almost as good are robotic villains – the hyper-rational, super-tricky machine minds like Blaine the Mono in the Dark Tower series, the prison in Incarceron, or of course Hal 9000.  

The best villains have more than intelligence and wit though, and as fate would have it I got a perfect reminder of it just this morning:

<veers off the YA highway briefly for a related side story>

I was in the library cafĂ©, waiting for the main building of the library to open. (That’s right – my new local library has a coffee shop just outside. Brilliant!) Next to me was a mother reading a Star Wars graphic novel to her young son. From what I could hear it was the least action-packed Star Wars episode ever, all about peace negotiations between some minor groups. When she finished, her son asked whether so-and-so was a bad guy or a good guy, and his mother explained, “They’re more neutral, not necessarily bad or good. Both of the groups just want different things.” The boy asked another question that I couldn’t hear, and his mother answered:

“Even the bad guys care about something.”

Simple genius… and so important to remember as a writer! 

I love villains who trick you into rooting for them because you are seeing the world through their eyes and their desires...especially if there is actually a compelling reason for their actions. 

And by the same token, when villains don’t have a clear motivation they lose some of their appeal for me. It’s the frustration that comes when the psychopath goes to the chair refusing to give any reason for what he’s done. I mentioned Iago earlier, but he actually would never top my villain list because he fails the motivation test. He spends the play throwing out a dozen different half-formed excuses for his vengeance and then ends it by refusing to talk about his crimes or motives, ever again. Kind of infuriating. 

So, in summary, give me villains that are smart, sassy, and clearly motivated!

What about you?


  1. You're right, we do like similar things in villains! And, though, I didn't mention it, I ADORE a well-acted Iago.

  2. Definitely - and so typical of Iago to sneak/charm his way onto my list like that even though he was breaking the rules I was trying to set.