Sunday, August 21, 2011

Show Your Villains Some Love

What makes a good villain?  Is it the clothes, the snarky dialogue, the diabolically evil plots? We all know they need motivation and depth. But how deep? How much motivation? Do you develop backstory for your villains as well as for your heros?

Do tell.


The photo above is my favorite villain of all time, the fantastically tortured Brian de Bois-Gilbert of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, portrayed to perfection by the incredibly sexy Ciaran Hinds. I love that man so much, I even recognized him as Aberforth Dumbledore in "The Deathly Hallows, Part II" under all that makeup. It made the movie that much sweeter, knowing he was in it. It's the eyes, oh my God, those eyes! And that slow, rich British cadence to his voice. And that he looks damn fine holding a sword, thank you very much.


  1. Drive. The best villains are totally committed to their goal. Think about it? Who are the villains you really remember? Javert? Voldemort? Cruella DeVil? (Had to include that one). They are the ones who decide what they want and don't look back. Their reasons for doing what they do aren't as important as their focus in gettig there.

  2. yes, he's a great actor. and i agree about the eyes and voice. the fact that his name is Ciaran (just spelled the wrong way) has nothing to do with my fascination.

  3. Thank you so much, Michelle, for turning me on to that fabulous production. What I loved about it was the lack of special effects. It was all about the acting. Imagine!

    I think villains need motivation as well as drive, though, to be truly compelling. Brian de Bois-Gilbert's need to seduce Rebecca for his own twisted sense of redemption was what made him so compelling.

    Voldemort was driven by the fear of death, something we can all relate to. Saruman wanted knowledge and power. I always found him much more interesting than Sauron.

    I always think of that Tears for Fears song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

    It's my own design, it's my own remorse.

  4. I think they have to be the hero of their own story. I strive but don't meet that goal with Asmodai. He's too flat, being a demon-king and all.

    But he does want what the humans have, which is also what my hero-demons want, which is love. He's just not able to touch it without destroying it.

  5. That's an interesting thought. Satan wants to be loved. Heh.

  6. Does that mean he's just misunderstood, Betsy?

  7. I like villains that you can't help but like too. Those are the best. They're deliciously evil.

  8. I love a smart villain who doesn't explain his nefarious plans to the hero.

  9. Interesting that you should mention that, Lynda, because my writer's group discussed this topic last night and that very point came up. We were talking about the problem of how to convey the villain's motivation if he isn't a point-of-view character.

    Having the villain explain himself to the victim is often used to do this. It's harder to show some other way.


I apologize for the word verification. I hate it, but the spammers made me do it.