I was reading an excellent post by Alex Laybourne today in which he asked who we [writers] preferred to write about – heroes or villains.
My immediate response was ‘villains of course!” And then I started wondering why that reaction had been so instant. That lead to thoughts about villains in books that I had read or in movies I had seen. Almost without fail the most interesting characters were always the villains. Why?
In movies, villains are often portrayed as hunky guys oozing danger and sex appeal in equal measure so the attraction is not hard to understand but why does the same thing happen in so many books as well? After all, the author may describe a villain as ‘handsome’ but handsome is just a word and does not have the impact of a three-quarter profile in a close-up. Besides, in books it’s usually the personality that I find myself attracted to anyway.
I’ll admit that for quite a long time I thought there was something a little bit wrong with me until I started talking to other women about this bad-boy phenomenon and discovered that I was not alone. And it’s not something restricted to my generation either – no.1 daughter is the same and when we first started playing rpg’s together guess who got our attention? Was it Cloud from Final Fantasy 7? Hah! Of course not. How could that angsty namby pamby compete with Sephiroth? I mean come on… even as a pixelated animation that long silver hair was just….
Ahem. I think I’ve made my point. There is something about a good villain that is exciting and yes, sexy and has as much to do with how quickly we turn the pages as any empathy we may feel for the hero of the piece.
Now I need to make a very important point here. When I talk about sexy villains I am NOT talking about romance novel villains. Or heroes. I am talking about characters in science fiction novels and fantasies and thrillers and, of course, who dunnits. These villains are not out to seduce anyone yet so often they end up being seductive anyway. Why is that?
The only answer I can think of is that the author subconsciously projected that element of seductiveness without knowing that he/she was doing so. Furthermore I think that this element of seductiveness has something to do with the cold, calculating exercise of power. And success. No matter how cold or calculating a villain may be if he is an incompetent bungler then sex appeal goes flying out the window. And he can’t whinge or whine either – that’s another huge turn-off.
So what the hell is it about villains? I do have some suspicions but rather than launching into some long analysis that will probably end up being painfully boring I’m going to end this post with a book, a villain, a question and a challenge.
The book : Otherland
The villain : Dread
The question : Did you find Dread as compelling as I did?
The challenge : Name your favourite villain [and the book he/she appeared in] and say why in 500 words or less [preferably less!]
May the power of the pen be with us 🙂