Today I’m happy to have on the blog today an awesome blogger who has become a new friend: Stormy from Book. Blog. Bake. She’s talking about one of my FAVORITE subjects, book villains!
What makes a Good Bookish Villain?
Villains are often what can make or break a book, especially if the book in question is fantasy, science fiction, or paranormal. Un-scary villains make the story boring, but over-the-top villains turn a bit Disney-villainish(which, as a disclaimer, I may say that there’s nothing wrong with that. Scar, right? Best non-human Disney villain).
However, the over-the-top Disney villain isn’t what most books go for, to my knowledge. So what makes a good villain, in the world according to Stormy? Well, I’ve come up with a few things. And for the purpose of this post, I’m thinking specifically of human(or human-like) villains. Voldemort. Sauron. President Snow. You get the picture.
1. Their threats have to be real.
I used to work with kids, and one thing that was drilled through my head in trainings was always that kids need consequences. Empty statements get you nowhere if people realize quickly you don’t plan on actually following through with the consequences you’ve laid out. If they realize your statements are empty, then they have no reason to obey.
Well, book characters are like that too. If it becomes obvious that the villain in the story WILL NOT ACTUALLY ACT ON THREATS, or takes too long, the story becomes boring. The stakes might still technically be high, but I, as a reader, no longer believe that anything negative will befall the main characters. And if that’s the case, then. . . well, I just don’t really have any reason to care anymore, do I?
2. They need motivation.
People tend to do things because they WANT something. Even when it’s things we hate, we do it because we think it can lead to a goal further done. People work because they either want to do what they do, or because they want money to live. And villains are no different, assuming your villain is a person. And the villain’s motivation can be that they want to be the most feared person ever, but it’s a motivation that should show through somewhere.
3. They shouldn’t be defeated easily.
It took Harry Potter SEVEN freakin’ books to defeat Voldemort. There were a LOT of pages and people involved in Voldemort’s ultimate defeat. And yes, typically, we want the hero to succeed in the end, but it shouldn’t be so easy. So often I think series are born because of this reason, and it’s a reason I’ll support. If the main character is able to just stick a sword in the villain three minutes into the fight and that’s the end, I am not impressed.
4. They either need to be present OR the idea of them needs to be present.
The stakes normally feel higher when the villains are close to the heros. The idea that the villain could be lurking around any corner is one that immediately amps the end result up in my mind, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they need physically close to the heros. Still, they should be a lingering presence in some way or another to get the full villain effect. Even when Voldemort could be anywhere across the globe, Harry’s scar and dreams keeps Voldemort close by, at least in reader’s mind. Sauron is represented by an eye, which makes him seem immediately watchful. It’s one thing to build up to a hero/villain showdown, but it doesn’t do much good if the villain is barely a presence in the book up to that point.
5. Please, No Monologuing!
I do not like villain monologues(unless they are in Harry Potter). 90% of the time, I find them eye-rolling. There are a few times when authors have set up the villains character in a way that I believe they are the type of person who will WANT people to know how brilliant they are. That’s why Voldemort’s monologues work for me in Harry Potter; Tom Riddle is exactly that type of person.But with a few exceptions, nothing makes me lose patience with villains faster than an ending monologue to the hero! It’s one thing if they monologue to one of their minions, but I’m talking epic end-of-story showdown here. I hate when a book has a great villain, and then said villain does this, and I lose all faith in their ability to BE a villain. So please, authors, no more villain monologues!
Five reasons isn’t that many, but it’s astounding how many villains lose their scariness because of not adhering to these five things, at least in my experience.
Seriously, these “tips” for a good villain are really super helpful if you’re writing a book with a bad guy. I know mine have, unfortunately, fallen prey to some of these! Thanks Stormy for your awesome post!