Thursday, November 21, 2013

Villains need love, too

By Gayle Carline
Mystery Author and Lover of Bad Boys

I've started to get a few notes from my beta readers on my new mystery. The positive comments have buoyed me, and the criticisms have been right on the money. In particular, one reader called me out on a character that is unlikeable throughout the book, then gets the "touchy-feely psychoanalysis" treatment at the end.

Although this character is villainous, they are not the main bad person, so I didn't do as much background development with them as I did for the other characters. This was my error. Even minor villains need attention.

Once I realized my mistake, I started thinking about the evil characters that have slithered across my TV screen this season. They are as rich as any villains I can remember, so rich that I wish I had written them. Here are my favorites:

1. Peter Pan from Once Upon a Time - okay, this is a fantasy, not a mystery show, but the characters are both archetypal and real to me. Peter Pan is one of those characters I grew up with as a Disney kid. He was fun, benignly mischievous, and gallant in the clenches. The Peter Pan from OUAT is none of those things, but he makes so much sense. He has been a young boy for too long. Yes, kids can be sweet. They can also be whiny and petulant and selfish. What should be a joyous innocence has been rotted, like being too long on the vine.

What kind of positive trait could I turn into maliciousness in a villain? It sets my mind to spinning.

2. Red Reddington from The Blacklist - here is a master of evil at work. He is, as his creators have dubbed him, "The Concierge of Crime," completely without morals, working on his own agenda even as he claims to be helping the feds catch other criminals. And yet, there is this unexplained soft spot for Agent Keen. What does she mean to him?

(Note: This clip is creepy.)

He reminds me of the parable of the snake that asks a young girl to carry him across the river, assuring her that he will not bite on the way across, because they would both drown. Halfway across the river, she feels the sting of his fangs and asks why he did such a thing. "You knew what I was when you agreed," he told her.

Red looks like a man who may not actually have been born a sociopath, but who has been trained, through tragedy, to become one.

Both of these villains have been carefully crafted and are pure joys to watch. They are also reminders that I need to pay more attention to even my lesser meanies.

Have any of you stumbled upon any villains recently that you'd love to talk about?

P.S. If anyone's interested in a free book (paperback, ebook or audio), and/or free promo stuff (caps, bags, mugs) and/or gift cards, I'm running a contest on my personal blog. Come on over and win a SPAMMY!


  1. My favorite villains are those who don't see themselves that way, typically because they've been victimized in the past.

    My least favorite are serial killers (who have no motive other than a desire to kill) and those motivated only by money/greed, like the HR cops on Person of Interest. Boy, am I glad to see that storyline wrap up.

    But I am a fan of James Spader, Reddington, and The Blacklist—even though the plots sometimes have huge holes. Thanks for a fun post.

    1. I'm also not a fan of the serial killers, although the need for that emotional/sexual/whatever release through taking a life KIND OF fascinates me, in a WTF way. Greed is a tad boring, because I understand that it starts small, then builds as more amoral/immoral decisions are made to keep the $$ coming in, to the point where we've got the HR cops in large crimes to protect their assets - HOWEVER - in the back of my mind is a niggling little thought that there were other choices to make all along and how is it that all of these people made the wrong choice all the way down the line?

      I'm thoroughly enjoying Spader, plot holes and all. He's such a bad boy.

  2. I enjoy villains who surprise me. Maybe they have a soft side. Maybe they do something good somewhere.I want to know what made them the way they are. The more they can be a little like you and me, the more I'm intrigued.

    On the flip-side, flat, one-dimensional villains bore the heck out of me. It's pretty clear they could never be real, so how could the rest of the story actually happen? Yeah, I know it's fiction. But still.


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