Written by: TM Clark
What do Hannibal Lecter, Cruella de Vil, Darth Vader, The Sheriff of Nottingham, The Joker, Norman Bates, Bellatrix Lestrange and Gollum have in common?
Answer: All villains.
But they are so much more than just villains. They’re Supervillains. Amazing villains. Despicable and atrocious villains. Characters we hate.
Or is it that we can’t help loving them a little as well and despite all their flaws, and despicableness, we want them to turn from the ‘dark side’ or die as retribution for being who they are? Or maybe not…
What makes a villain so appealing to our readers, that they keep coming back for more, book after book?
Hannibal Lector is the villain in four thrillers: Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988), Hannibal (1999), and Hannibal Rising (2006). Throughout these books, we get to know him as more than just a cannibal. He’s intelligent, he’s manipulative, a charming character, an enigma in our civilized society, and we try to understand why such a man became a monster … and in doing so, we want Starling to catch and stop Buffalo Bill even more. Villains are so much more than just a figure put in to make your hero look good.
Villains – anti-heroes – are characters created by writers.
CREATED… sometimes there might be a grain of truth in the characters, but mostly, they spring from the imagination of the writer.
Any writer can create them.
The trick is to learn how to create them well.
Make no mistake, in films adaptations, the actors who portray a villain and bring them onto the big screen help these characters to become legends. After all, Thomas Harris might have penned Hannibal Lector from his mind and onto the page. But, it was Anthony Hopkins who made Hannibal a household name when he added his own interpretation to the character in the movie. Thomas Harris had to not only imagine Hannibal but live with him inside his head for the duration of writing all four of the Hannibal books. He had to create him for Anthony Hopkins to take on the role. When I began this article, I had to look up the name of the author. But I knew the character.
People remember the characters. They fall in love with them or learn to hate them.
“A census taker tried to quantify me once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a big Amarone. Go back to school, little Starling.”
― Thomas Harris – Silence of the Lambs
Who wouldn’t be terrified when confronted with this type of monster anywhere other than inside the covers of a book?
All things considered, it’s the amazing ability of a good writer to create a character, who will endure, in the reader’s imagination, long after the book is closed.
As a writer, you strive to create an amazing anti-hero, a character strong if not stronger, than your hero. So that in the pivotal moment, the villain can hold the hero’s life close to damnation, and your reader’s heart will flutter.
Learning ways to improve the characteristics needed for a scrumptious villain in the world you create, is pivotal to moving a book from average, to beyond great – to memorable.
To learn how you can write villains that are memorably terrifying, come along to QWC’s workshop, Create the Perfect Villain on November 16. Don’t miss out – book your tickets now!