Mainly about the bad guys

(By the way, I’ve added the first chapters of my three major works, and a short story, to my blog. If you put your mouse on the “Adventures in Various Worlds” page you’ll see them.)

Today’s post is a collection of miscellaneous things, which ended up being mainly about villains.

I thought of a way to turn a stereotype on its head: what if a good character liked spiders? Just because it’s creepy-crawly doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad — you know all that about beauty being inside and what’s on the outside isn’t necessarily a reflection of character? (Sorry, Renaissance lovers.) And just because villains are usually the only kind to like, get along with, not be afraid of, or even employ spiders, doesn’t mean their use can’t be redeemed. Stereotypical villains are bad examples, but sometimes we can take back what is associated with them through long years of them all being exactly the same. I draw the line at good characters liking snakes, though. Snakes are evil.

My sister gives me a lot of ideas for my writing. Several of her lines have found their way straight into stories.

“And right now I suspect you of having dark designs on some of my property.”

“Dark designs? Did I get mud on the carpet?”

Others are a little stranger. Without her how would I have conceived of the notion that a villain would like to chew carrots? Or have a side hobby of making muffins? Or like to wear stripy socks (and if also fuzzy, all the better)? Or liven up his black uniforms (because we all know that all villains, and only villains, wear black) with dashes of neon? I don’t suppose you can imagine a villain who likes cheesecake and sleeps with stuffed animals, not that he’d ever admit it to his underlings of course? Whose favourite food is cheese and crackers? Who adopts stray cats and gives them a loving home? He draws the line at killing people personally — if that has to be done in order to get to his larger goal, he’ll make sure his henchmen do it behind the scenes — and he specializes in thefts and crimes of that sort, being both charming and light-fingered. In his spare time he doodles and writes nonsense verse.

I’m tossing these ideas out there because I doubt I’ll ever get to use them all, though I do like the idea of a villain adopting stray cats to give them a loving home, and that one will probably find its way in somewhere.

I’ve been noticing lately that I don’t have that many villains or antagonists in human form — usually it’s circumstances, or laws, or people who want to do right but do bad things from a misguided ambition to bring about the greater good. Considering how picky I am about bad guys, it’s odd that I haven’t practiced much of what I preach.


About Nolie Alcarturiel

Creative Writing major and Philosophy minor, contemplating a Master's degree in Medieval History. I enjoy practically anything to do with medieval history, including the domestic arts, with an especial emphasis on the Anglo-Saxon Era. In my spare time I read endlessly, do medieval living-history, hold philosophical debates at the drop of a hat, and write books on even slighter provocation.
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12 Responses to Mainly about the bad guys

  1. thegermangolux says:

    Oi. I like both spiders and snakes. I live in the basement, and a clutter (yes, that is the accepted term) of spiders attends me in the shower, next to my bed, in every corner of my room, et cetera. I rather like having some company down there. And snakes are beautiful creatures. I could watch them for hours. And everyone ought to know what it feels like to hold a writhing snake in your hands, right behind the head so it can’t bite you.
    On the other hand, I think a good villain would surround himself with cats. Cats are thoroughly devious and backstabbing creatures. Ginger, in The Last Battle, is the perfect example of the untrustworthiness and villainy of cats.

    You raise an interesting and difficult point, though. Villains have to be villains, right? I don’t mind (in fact, I like) a character who remains ambiguous throughout the scope of the story, only for all to be revealed at the end; but it must be revealed where he stands. If you have a villain who likes kittens and rainbows but can’t kill someone, is he actually a villain? Shouldn’t you make a moral stand on such a character, so as not to confuse your audience?

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but even if so, it makes for an interesting conversation.


    • Hope Ann says:

      I suppose a villain would be a villain because of what he supports and does. He can like all the rainbows and butterflies he wants, but if he is working on manipulating events to bring two characters into a war which will destroy everyone, then yes… he’d still be a villain even if he doesn’t have the stomach to go out on the streets with a knife or gun of his own.


      • noliealcarturiel says:

        What Hope said. Murder isn’t the only thing that makes someone bad.

        Liked by 1 person

      • thegermangolux says:

        Right. I guess I should have been more clear. What I meant was that it doesn’t seem good to have a likeable antagonist.

        If you have an endearing villain, your audience might start to like him. And you don’t have a very good moral struggle if your antagonist competes for the reader’s affection for the protagonist. That’s why the bad guy wears a black coat and has a thick monobrow and speaks in forbidding tones. These are things that properly inspire fear and dislike, rather than affection. We make our villains bad, and our protagonists good, because we don’t want to lead our readers astray by confusing the two.

        Sure, a villain is decided by what he supports and does. But if he’s chock-full of lovable traits, while at the same time plotting to overthrow Christendom, you have a character who is going to wholly confuse the reader, right?

        That said, I have nothing against ambiguous characters. But if he’s going to be ambiguous, make him ambiguous. Don’t cause your reader to either particularly hate or particularly love him; keep them guessing.


      • noliealcarturiel says:

        In real life, some bad characters are somewhat likeable. And as for the villain wearing only black, well, have you noticed anybody’s suit lately? It’s usually black. Good characters can wear black without ceasing to be good, or even without starting to be frightening. I’m not scared of my sister when I see her in concert clothes.
        Bad characters are often humans, which means they should be, well, human. Humans have contradicting traits. Good people have bad habits. So I don’t see a problem with an unambiguously bad character having a good trait. I know people like that.
        The moral struggle becomes more intense when the audience begins to wonder whether they actually like the bad guy. If you portray evil people as human beings, you make them wonder, and I’m all in favour of helping people think.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hope Ann says:

    Ooo, love the different ideas. It is so much fun playing with stereotypes and turning them on their head. I have a villain who is heartless in about everything except a little Yorkie that he keeps and cares for. 😀


  3. parkhurstj says:

    This is definitely a fun topic to delve into. I know it’s one which has kept me chasing endless possibilities and answers over time, especially when it comes to two of my absolute favorite characters to write. One is known at the poison expert, the other… well, he has many titles depending on who you ask, but the one which gets the most reference in the story is Poison Sage.

    Due to their work, they both have a tendency to lean towards the villain side of the spectrum (and for good reason), but depending on the perspective, both could feasibly be considered one of the ‘good guys’ too. The Poison Expert, after all, has to know the poisons intimately in order to create their antidotes and address the repercussions of accidents, intended events and more. The Poison Sage is merely doing his duty to the government he leads. The law (of the story, that is) must be upheld, and sometimes, that takes extreme measures of a subtle variety if the incredibly volatile peace is to be maintained.

    Where to draw the line, though? They each have a strong moral code (different, but just as iron-clad as the other), a legitimate reason and purpose, and have backstories which fully support the journey it’s taken them to reach that point in their careers. Truth be told, if the perspectives were switched and the whole story told from the other side, their roles could quite feasibly be flipped with little drama to the characters themselves. Perspective is a fascinating thing, but also a double-edged weapon in story-telling. Adding personality quirks to villains only adds to the fun of the writing process!


  4. Katherine says:

    I love characters with unexpected characteristics. It makes them more human and real (because honestly, the guy in the suit who never does anything except seek revenge and boast about his flawless plans is pretty uninteresting). Personally I think spiders and snakes can be very pretty and interesting, but I prefer not to be surprised by them in the shower or chicken coop, respectively.


    • noliealcarturiel says:

      That’s really the goal with making more “real” villains. Also, when the obstacle is a legitimate threat, the heroes have to be something special in order to win, which is good. It’s one of the reasons I like Pendragon’s Heir so much, because Suzannah wasn’t afraid to let the bad guys have strong arguments.

      Showers are not good places for spiders, and chicken coops are definitely bad places to find snakes, or raccoons, or possums, or pretty much anything carnivorous.

      Liked by 1 person

      • thegermangolux says:

        Chickens are carnivorous sometimes. I’ve seen chicks eat each other, and we throw meat scraps in there occasionally.


      • noliealcarturiel says:

        Chickens will eat mice. It’s bad when they start eating each other — you have either too many in a place that’s too small for them, or they’re lacking some important nutrient.
        Apart from their sometimes disturbing eating habits, they’re fun birds, although not terribly intelligent as birds go. The pigeon we have right now picks up on things much faster than any of mine did, and it hasn’t been around nearly as long.


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