Linda Maye Adams

Pulling out my Evil Manual. Studying Hard.


Monster with fangs plots evil deeps as it holds a cane topped with a skullWhen I went to ConTemporal this summer, I quickly discovered that I was overdressed for the con.  I was in a tank top and shorts, but evidently I looked more like a tourist because con security stopped me.  So I visited the dealer’s room in search of a T-shirt and found one that said:

Knowledge is Power.

Power Corrupts.

Study Hard.  Be Evil.

Of course,  I had to buy it.  Sometimes evil can be fun, and sometimes it needs to be a little fun.

I’ve been working on my antagonist’s subplot, so it’s got me thinking about villains.  An antagonist isn’t always a villain — sometimes it’s just a person or thing opposing the heroine — but mine’s definitely a villain.  He’s wanting to do evil things.

Evil’s hard to do.  The first things I always think of are the books that didn’t do it right.  A lot of writers just slap a villain sign on the character and have him do terrible things.  Maybe somewhere along the storyline, the writer realizes the villain isn’t evil enough, so they add a dog or a cat to the story and have the villain kill it to tell us:

This villain is evil!  He kills puppies and kittens!

Eew!  This is enough to make me instantly put down the book.  I ain’t going to hate the villain, but I am going to wonder if the author hates animals.

So what does make a good villain?  I hunted around villain territory and found Tess Collins’ post The Sympathetic Villain:

What makes a good villain? Philosophy. Vision. Humanity. A sense of history. The same qualities that make a good hero.

Hmm.  Sympathetic is a deceptive word, since it easy to think about feeling sorry for the guy.  But in a story, it’s about making him into a human being and not a cardboard cutout of evil badness.  Maybe even understanding why he’s gone off into the evil zone, even if we don’t agree with it.

I think I like my villains to be a little the over the top and extreme in some ways.  Remember the mayor from Buffy the Vampire Slayer?

“Raise your hand if you’re invulnerable.”

It helps keep the villain fun, still dangerous, and yet provides a way to escape from the real world.  Creating a serial killer stalking women in Los Angeles … well, not so much.

What do you think?  What makes for a good villain? What are you favorite villains?  If you had an evil manual, what would be in it?

Wander on by and check out my flash fiction story Sand Dollar Wishes on Writer Unboxed.  No evil villains in it, and no sand dollars were harmed in the making of it.  Some words did lose their lives to the editing scissors, since it’s reallllyyy short.

6 Comments

  1. Good article-thanks for sharing link to article by Tess Collins. Love your new shirt, wish I had one.

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  2. Villains, antagonists, are definitely the hardest characters to right. They can’t just be a stereotype although we often think of them in those terms. They definitely need a story, a motive, a mission statement, and a little something that makes them unique. Great post Linda.

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    • I think motive is one of the toughest aspects, Patricia. It seems like a lot of villains want to do X, but there really isn’t a reason for it. Certainly a lot of science movies I’ve seen are like that!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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      • I agree. While the general plot may be good, the lack of a motive leaves me unsatisfied.

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