They kill, they cheat, they steal, right? They sit in their dilapidated apartment and tap their long, crusty fingernails together while gazing at the defaced pictures of the dashing hero and heroine on the wall. They have one thing on their mind and they will get it at all costs. They don’t need to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom. Forget about laundry. (They only wear that faded black hoodie anyway – unless they’re REALLY evil, then it’s business casual). They’re psychopaths. They are evil incarnate and evil as evil can be for the sake of being evil.
And man they’re boring.
Look, I know there’s always a place for a good rampaging psychopath, but it’s just not for me. Give me a villain who can smile sympathetically – and mean it – any day.
Most good stories need a bad guy, that’s a given. Our favorite good guys (and gals) wouldn’t have much to do without them. But many times the bad guy can, and should, be as interesting as the protagonist.
So what makes a bad guy good?
As always, I can only speak for myself and what motivates my imagination. As always, that’s human nature. Yes, that’s right, my bad guys come from the same place as my good guys. And guess what? Anyone who’s read one of my books knows that my good guys are far from perfect as well. In fact, sometimes you can’t tell the difference. Confused yet?
Let’s say the goal of creating an interesting character is to create a three-dimensional likeness. Do you really know anyone who’s purely evil (or good for the matter)? Even more unlikely, do you know anyone who’s evil who thinks they’re evil? Most of the dark stuff I’ve encountered in life comes from complicated motivating factors, never the intent to be evil. A lot of evil isn’t even planned, but a result of unfortunate events, misplaced loyalty, deluded ambitions, and even good intentions with poor execution. Heck, why not good intentions with good execution that goes awry?
I believe there are places for the one-dimensional minor characters. Sometimes we need a stereotype with easy assumptions all wrapped up in a nice little one-line package. They perform their function and move on into one-dimensional sit-com world. But villains? No way, too important.
A good villain should not only give you a better story, he or she should also develop your hero.