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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

In Search of a Good Villain

I've been giving some thought this past week to what makes a good villain. I've dealt with all types in past books, from the insane, to the power hungry, to people who are twisted by their circumstances into something monstrous. On occasion I've crafted a villain to meet the circumstances of the plot. This is what I did with The Devil's Peak, fitting the perfect villain to torment my main character. In The Righteous, religion motivates both my protagonists and my villains in equal measures. For The Red Rooster, the villain is a Gestapo agent, working to forward the evil of the Third Reich.

As I'm plotting out my newest book--another WWII thriller--it would be easy to come up with the same sort of character. Nazi is shorthand for evil; if my sympathetic characters are opposed to Nazis, there's no further need to justify their actions. And yet this strikes me as a little too easy for this particular book.

I absolutely do not want to justify the horrific behavior of the Nazi regime, but if I simply adopt the usual tropes, it's unlikely that I'll produce anything interesting or memorable. And it occurs to me that a reluctant Nazi might be, if anything, more horrific than the usual sociopath pulled directly from central casting.

As this character starts to come together in my head, my attention turns toward his opponents, and the need to give them an equally compelling narrative.


  1. A reluctant Nazi sounds intriguing. If they aren't doing evil for the sake of being evil, then there must be something interesting motivating them. If it's a motivation the reader can sympathize with, all the better.

    I've started reading the Game of Thrones series and love the way George RR Martin handles the villains (or the characters who would be villains, were they in a standard fantasy book). I often find myself sympathizing with them (aside from the one or two who are genuine sociopaths) and sometimes even rooting for them over the "heroes"!

  2. Have you read Rebecca Cantrell's series? She has a very creepy, reluctant Nazi in her books.

  3. Cat -- yes, I've read GRR Martin. He does have terrific villains. Even the ones who are more or less pure evil are very well drawn.

    Suzanne -- I can't tell if I should rush out and grab that or wait until I'm done with the book, first, but thanks for the recommendation.