Villains can make or break a story. You need some type of adversity for the hero to overcome and having another sentient being to face can push them to new levels of strength. Many times these antagonists become more popular because people become fascinated by how someone can go evil. We remember what drove them to the edge more than what pushed the hero forward. This is why sympathetic and redeemed villains are fairly common . . . We’re not here to talk about those.
I’m thinking more about the villains who cannot step back into the light. They are dripping with sinister intentions and indulge in their acts of cruelty. Some may have a sad backstory, but others are nothing more than sadistic psychopaths. That isn’t to say they don’t have depth, but they aren’t going to make a hero turn or reveal that they consider themselves the good guys. You know they will have to die or go to prison for life in order to put them down forever. Their hearts are ice cold and this allows them to commit heinous crimes that can cause an audience to turn on an author. Honestly, I’ve only made one character that fits this bill.
For those who were going to say Lloyd Tenay, Clyde, or Baron Kernaghan, you’re missing a key component. Each of those characters possesses a redeeming quality or a spark of decency. Lloyd lives in a savage world, but won’t kill innocents. Clyde is similar in that he only kills on the battlefield. Baron Kernaghan shows compassion in some instances and doesn’t really enjoy inflicting pain. I’m sure those who have followed the blog for years and read at least the first five volumes of Legends of Windemere will know who I’m going to mention. Stephen Kernaghan is the biggest monster that I’ve ever met and fits the cold-hearted/remorseless villain for the following reasons:
- He enjoys inflicting pain and misery. There is never a moment where he thinks he went too far.
- He kills others with no hesitation including innocent bystanders. Some of these deaths are for no other reason than to hurt others. Other times, he uses these murders for even darker purposes.
- He will betray anyone because he only cares about himself. That’s why he talks about killing his own father once the old man has ‘served his purpose’. It’s another reason why none of the other villains fully trusted him, so you have these villains causing paranoia and distrust in their own ranks.
- I can’t think of anything he wouldn’t do. Keep in mind that he wanted to break Nyx and make her his. It’s implied he did this to Trinity. By break, I mean the guy is a full on rapist, which is why I was always disgusted whenever I wrote his scenes. It was suggested that I temper him since I hated him so much, but I really felt like I needed such a horrible creature in the story. Stephen is someone who will never be redeemed and his presence drew out more humanity from his ‘allies’.
Now, I know this might not fit the ‘cold-hearted’ definition for people. That denotes a villain who has no emotions and does not care about anything. Yet, I see many of these types care about themselves. So, you can have a cold-hearted villain who simply doesn’t care about anyone else and is a full blown narcissist. There is still ice in there, which makes some sense because it’s encased the heart. You won’t get anything through there to warm them up, so they will stay cruel and evil. The only thing that can change it is an internal shift and a path of self-recovery, but those are difficult to pull off. In fact, I find them hard to believe.
You see, these villains will commit some of the biggest crimes of a story. They may be defeated to make room for a more powerful antagonist. Then, they return with a new outlook on life and wanting to help their former enemies. My issue here is that it’s always too easy and past sins are typically glossed over. Recently, I finished reading ‘Naruto’ and it bugged me how several big name villains went hero near the end with nothing more than snark aimed at them. I was finding their sudden nobility and respect by the heroes rather forced. This could be cynicism on my part, but there was something off about the flow of these heartless, selfish characters suddenly being selfless and helpful. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it’s a really big jump to make.
So, I’m more interested in to thinking about what other people think about this kind of villain. Is it believable to you? Do you think they can be easier to redeem than I’ve made it sound? How would you write one?