Continuing with a previous post about heroes, it's time to talk about villains. Villains for me are just like heroes. They cannot be omnipotent, incredibly charismatic, and perfectly evil. A proper villain however, shouldn't be ignorant either. After all, if the villain were really as stupid as is so often portrayed by Hollywood, anyone could catch them. The truly diabolical villains appeal to me greatly. The people who hide in the shadows, surprise me by being behind the master plan without me suspecting at any point. A perfect example is the villain in Angels & Demons (which I will be reviewing tomorrow). I won't spoil the story because I think everyone who enjoys that type of book really needs to read it. But the major villain in the story is someone you would never expect. I didn't have even a hint of it as I was reading, so that when it was revealed, I was stunned. That is what I call a great villain.
Another villainous type I enjoy is the truly evil. Sometimes writers seem to find it difficult to describe someone who is pure evil. Homicidal destruction all wrapped up in a cannabilistic rage. There are lines that many writers will just not go beyond, but I'm not so naive as to think there does not exist vessels of pure evil out there. I also don't think it's a terrible thing to examine this facet of humanity in literature. Call it a morbid curiosity towards an aspect I personally could never (nor would I, of course) experience. Stephen King is one writer that consistently explores these deeper wells of evil, and obviously he does a great job of it. If you haven't noticed by now, King is definitely one of my larger influences. Whether I'll ever be able to write as well as he does remains to be seen, but let it be known that I purposely drink from his well whenever possible. The man is pure genius for drawing out the diabolical.
I don't think it really matters to me whether the villain is human, space alien, or an insect. It doesn't matter. What matters is how well the author creates an understanding between the written work and myself that I am in the presence of evil undeniable. Don't give me hordes of simplistic goons in zoot suits or the Supreme Overlord in black. The more unique and interesting the villain is, the more likely it is I'll be entertained.
So how about yourself? What makes a great villain? What makes a poor one? And when was the last time you truly felt afraid of a villain being real (figuratively, of course)?