Writing the Villain

No Redeeming Qualities

You work really hard to understand your characters. To make sure that their flaws are understood, that their current condition makes sense from prior conditions, that they have a coherent and whole personality.

But sometimes, you just get to write a bad guy. And it’s so much fun!!

I’m writing, of all things, an architectural novel. Really, it’s a novel about a building, and the people who occupy the different spaces for different reasons. And there are three people who showed up today who are just awful. Just. Awful.

They exist, of course, as obstacles and hazards for the well-meaning people around them. And I could give them some kind of nonsense backstory that explains their wounded psyche, that somehow justifies their bad behavior, like the recent Joker movie. But I don’t want to.

Comic books have so much fun with supervillains. The Wikipedia page for “comics supervillains” shows the following numbers of supervillains by publisher:

  • Amalgam Comics (18)
  • DC Comics (625)
  • Fawcett Comics (11)
  • Image Comics (26)
  • Marvel Comics (994)
  • Wildstorm Universe (15)

That’s one thousand six hundred and seventy four bad guys! If I ever got to work for Marvel, I’d volunteer for the bad-guy division, just for the fun of having someone with a singular motivation. James Bond, too. Sign me up for sidekicks and villains, please.

Some writers use villains like bakers use pie crust, as a fully-warranted counterpoint to the superhero filling. I use them more like cayenne pepper, a small quantity, but enough to make our hero spicy as he has to deal with the problem. They appear for a chapter or two, not as the central opponent that our hero has to address—that would be himself, as he tries to overcome his own flaws and fears—but as a particular moment, usually as someone that our hero would once have avoided but now realizes needs to be confronted after all.

Anyway, I hadn’t expected the bro-triumvirate of Cameron and Chandler and Raines to show up today, but they were exactly who I needed to see. Man, they’re just terrible!