What makes a good villain?

One of my friends, Natalie Damschroder, is blogging this month on what makes a good hero. I’ll probably write on this in the future, but every hero needs something or someone to fight against, thus, the villain.

Superman had Lex Luthor. Batman had The Joker (and Penguin and lots of others). Buffy the Vampire Slayer had, well, vampires (with the exception of Angel and Spike). Dorothy had the Wicked Witch of the West. Dudly Dooright had Snidely Whiplash. Each hero (or heroine) had a villain to go up against. Someone, or something, to fight against. To prevail over.

So what makes a good villain?

In order for a villain to be believable, he (or she – for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to use the generic “he” from now on, but please remember, not all villains are men) he must be real. What does that mean? It means the character has to be multi-dimensional. The best villains have wishes, dreams, good points and bad points.

What? Did I say good points? Yep. There has to be something about them, something that makes them bigger than the evil that they are. Most villains have something in their past that turned them into the evil monster they are. Even Frankenstein’s monster had a soft spot. Yes, they can be pure evil by the time our hero meets them, but there has to be a viable reason. A good villain has to be someone we can connect with on some level, even if he completely gives us the creeps, there has to be something there.

Take, for instance, Hannibal Lecter from The Silence of the Lambs. He is caged, surrounded by people who despise him, forced to entertain himself. We hate him. We hate what he has done. And yet, on some level, we understand him.  A good villain has to has a reason, no matter how insane or misguided, for doing what they do. Yes, world domination seems to be a universal theme, but most have a reason for their need for power.

So, tell me who is your favorite villain? And what makes him or her so memorable?


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