On baddies, evil, and motivations

So, I was reading a book a few weeks ago that was making me pretty angry. I’ve already had a rant about diversity, but I also had a bit of a rant about Baddies…

It really bugs me.

I had a go at getting some sense from villains over at Almond Press; my basic argument is that they need sensible motives. They need background. They need reasons. No-one is born evil, and the villain could always be the hero…in a different story. A villain without a motive is as baseless as a hero without one.

So why the frick do so many people buy into the trope of Evil Villain Doing Bad Stuff?

To borrow a line from Chuck Wendig: I AM VILLAIN AND SO I WILL DO VILLAINY IN THE FORM OF AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE AND WILDLY OVER-COMPLICATED SCHEME. Wants to destroy the world, check. Kills innocent people, check. Rapes someone important to the hero, check. Seriously, am I just going through a DC comic here? And if they have glowing eyes, you get a cookie.

It’s old. It’s tired. And it’s boring.

Give me a villain who acts against the hero. Give me a villain who has thought about the consequences of his actions, and weighed up the scenarios. Give me a villain who doesn’t want to be doing what he’s doing! Give me two opposing ideologies, both of which are equally valid. Give me someone with reasons and background.

Even if they’re insane – fine, although you’ll have to go a long way to beat the Joker. Insanity isn’t a catch-all for routine murder and torture; every madness has its own cold logic, its own reasons and rationale. If they were abused as a child, that’s fine, but show how those specific circumstances have affected things. Abuse isn’t a one-hat-fits-all. What did it do? What did it break? And maybe those circumstances did some good things as well as some bad; maybe the villain will go out of their way to rescue children in the same circumstances, even while not giving a damn about the rest of the world.

Make your villain as understandable as the hero, and that will make them even more chilling.

And please do something about the cliché talk and maniacal laughter. It’s just dull.

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.