My Bad

One of the more difficult — and interesting — aspects of writing a thriller, for me, has been crafting the villain — understanding his/her psychology, what makes him/her tick. My villain is methodical, but relatable and flawed, and I wonder if that detracts from the creepiness of the character.

What makes a bad guy/gal scary?  Is it the more we know about him/her, or the less? Is it smarts or plain stupidity or ignorance? Are the best villains the ones who started off good and then became corrupted, or those who have always been bad? What do you think? Who has scared you?

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2 thoughts on “My Bad

  1. An interesting take I learned on villainy is in Billy Budd. My teacher insisted that the real villain was not the cruel and punishing master at arms because while he was evil, he was only acting according to his nature; it was his job (and his nature) to mete out the punishment and he did so. The real villain was the Captain because he was the one who understood what really happened (that the death Billy caused was accidental and I think in self defense) and he did nothing to prevent the hanging. Before his knowing, he was impotent, a non act but one of villainy nonetheless. To see and recongize evil, to have the power to prevent it, to have the responsibility to prevent it, and to do nothing in the face of that knowledge.
    The broader question then is: is real villainy a knowing act, or an unconscious one. Much more sinister is the one who knows that his actions (or inaction) is evil and yet does it anyway.
    A dumb even cruel brute is not the same level of villain as a cunning, knowing, purposeful one.
    I think Melville used these two charcaters, the Captain and the Master at Arms, to play off one another, maybe even two sides of the same coin. And this construction lets him explore exactly that question — what is more evil, a conscious, knowing act or an unconscious one.
    I’m struggling with this issue myself in some writing I am doing. Except in my case it is the hero (if you can call it that) who is also the villain, both.
    Sorry for going on and on.

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