Deb Kerry Believes that Villains are People Too

Villain. It’s a term that makes me think of a black-caped man in a pointy beard and waxed mustache tying some helpless woman onto a railway track. You know that he will be punished and the woman will be rescued. Things are clear cut and pre-destined.

Sometimes it’s fun to read a book or watch a movie where the person out to get our hero is purely evil. We find this villain in super hero movies and sometimes in thrillers, and most often in fairy tales. Think of this guy, for example:

The Six-Fingered Man is pure evil, and we all love to hate him. Besides, he provides for the wonderful line, “I am Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

Or, how about Cruella De Ville, that killer of innocent puppies?

We, as the audience or reader, are given little indication of why this woman has such a blatant disregard for the lives of cute little spotted dogs. Was she bitten as a child? Did her parents beat her? We don’t know, anymore than we know what made the Six Fingered Man a sadist.

While these stories are great fun, I love the intensity we get from a more complex antagonist. Call him a villain, or her a villainess, if you like – but this character will be surprised that you would think so. She believes in the validity of her actions. He thinks he is doing the right thing and is just as prepared to die to meet his objective as our hero and heroine.

For me, one of the creepiest bad guys in a movie is The Operative from the movie Serenity.

The Operative doesn’t even get a name, and he is okay with that. He has been assigned a task, and what makes him dangerous is that he BELIEVES. He will do anything to succeed in his goal. When he kills, it is without rage or hatred. His conversations are logical, sometimes heartfelt. And this makes him lethal. It also complicates things because by the end of the movie I actually care about him, and my emotions are tied up in his fate.

When I write – in my novel BETWEEN, and even more so in the sequel I’m writing now – I try to create all of my characters with depth. My holy grail is to create an opposition character whose death could invoke tears from a reader. So be prepared – I will try to make you cry.

I couldn’t find a great clip of the Operative in action, but there are some great moments in this trailer. By the way, if you haven’t seen Serenity what are you waiting for? It’s brilliant.


11 Replies to “Deb Kerry Believes that Villains are People Too”

  1. Haven’t seen Serenity but it’s in my TBW pile of dvds right next to the player so maybe tonight’s the night? Nathan Fillion’s in that, right? Hello Nathan, old friend. Let’s make a date!

  2. Oh, good choice! I love Serenity almost as much as I love the unfortunately short-lived Firefly TV series. The Operative was well-written and well-acted.

  3. Kerry, I think it’s curious how we take villains at face value when we’re kids–in other words, we don’t need to know/understand their motivations/backgrounds–and maybe that’s what makes them so scary–they just ARE bad. As writers, of course, we have to make it all make sense–or at least, be motivated to be bad.

    1. Good point Erika. Only I don’t think it’s just writers that respond more to complicated bad guys. When they are “too evil” they sort of become cut out characters. Unless they’re Hannibal Lecter, of course.

  4. The villains with depth are definitely the ones that scare us – and thrill us – the most. I try really hard to create complicated villains in my work too, in large part because I think it would be fantastic to create a vibrant villain that people remember (and love to hate!).

  5. Cruella! She always scared me as a kid. And I love that you squeezed an Inigo Montoya quote in there ;-).

    But even though I enjoyed the likes of Cruella and Maleficent as a kid — both indisputably evil, without redeeming qualities — as an adult, I, too, enjoy complicated villains the most. People are complicated, and if villains are people too, the more complicated the better!

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