Villains with Hearts of Evil Ice

Frieza continuing a tradition

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?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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30 Responses to Villains with Hearts of Evil Ice

  1. Great post. I’ve never written one super-villain (all of mine have redeeming qualities which make them human). Nor, to be honest, do I have any desire to write one. But I was particularly intrigued by your question about people managing to turn from villains to heroes. It reminded of a story told by psychologist Carl Jung, about a preacher who had lived all his life as close to God as possible. Then, he woke up one night and exclaimed, “my God, I’m a scoundrel!” He promptly abandoned his family and spent all his fortune on prostitutes and gambling. Jung observed that this was the only occasion of a man he’d ever met, who had managed to be both saint and scoundrel within a single lifetime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Guessing most people will be interested in the villain to hero part. We always try to make our bad guys both human and somewhat redeeming. I wonder if doing otherwise makes us consider that such people may actually exist.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t know that they do. Even Dillinger apparently complained that he was a good guy trying to do the decent thing.

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      • I’m talking us and not just the perpetrators. Can we believe that there is a person out there who revels in being evil?

        Liked by 1 person

      • During my Navy service, I served with a man who’d done terrible things (a Satan worshiper, he’d raped and murdered a couple of girls, drank their blood, and desecrated their dead bodies). I was there the day they arrested him. He was shouting that the devil would save him. So yes, there is evil in the world. But even he, didn’t think himself evil, amazingly enough.

        I recently read about Passaris, a notorious Romanian criminal with a rich criminal career in Greece. He’s murdered a bunch of people and performed countless robberies. He’s escaped a few times from prison and is now serving his time at a max security prison. I recently read an interview of his, where he said that he was thinking back on his life and thought about himself, “hey, this is not a guy I’d want as my friend.” That was a turning point for him, apparently, and he’s now trying to improve himself.

        It’s a strange world…

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      • So, the guy suddenly realized he was a villain. Honestly, I’ve met plenty of people who enjoy causing pain. They admit to it with no indication that they think they’re right. Definitely a minority. I’m curious why people like this fail to cone across as realistic in fiction.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. L. Marie says:

    This is a fascinating topic. I see what you mean. it seems unbelievable for a person to commit atrocities for much of a story and then suddenly turn into a hero. Maybe the authors who wrote such accounts are of the belief that this individual needed to show some sort of change even at the last second (ala Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi). The issue with that is the turn isn’t given enough space to seem effective.

    I’m working on a young adult novel where one of the main protagonists is a villain who never changes his mind about his actions, never expresses remorse. However, it was important for me to show that he doesn’t see himself as a villain. He sees himself in the right. Therefore, why would he do anything otherwise? Granted, writing his perspective has been difficult. And sad. I can only take so much of his perspective at a time. But this character feels more real (and scary) because I understand him.

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    • That brings up a question. Who dubs a character a villain? Is it the audience, the heroes, or do they have to claim the title? If someone else sees him as a hero then that muddies the waters.

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      • L. Marie says:

        My guess is the other characters do the labeling. I’m just trying to present two sides of an argument without using terms like “villain” or even “hero.”

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  3. Super, cold-hearted villains must be hard to write. The tendance has to be to give them some kind of good trait and to fight that tendency must be hard.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d probably refer to my notes on the monster character and leave them as monsters. No redemption for you, but revenge is on the table.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A friend of mine came up with Talk-No-Jutsu as Naruto’s most powerful ability – to talk villains into being good guys.

    As for villains, I’m writing quite an interesting villain at the moment though they themselves don’t see themselves as villains. Yet their actions show/prove it more than anything. Although I’m not a fan of villains being evil for the sake of being evil, there is something quite upsetting about someone having no conscience, despite any good deeds thrown at them, such as Frieza as you pointed out.

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    • Naruto does seem to have that ability.

      It is upsetting to run into a character with no conscience. Many label them unbelievable too. Yet, I’m sure there are people out there who are like that. It would be weird if we lived in a world where we have those who love doing good, but not the opposite.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. V.M.Sang says:

    The villain in my World of Vimar series whom we meet in Book 2, has a very charming side and manages to convince some of the heros to work with him. For a while, anyway. He does not consider himself evil, but justified in his actions because of things that happened to him in his childhood.
    But a quick redemption? I think that would take a long time, or a sudden flash of realisation from insine the individual.

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  7. Staci Troilo says:

    They always say the villain is the hero in his mind, but I think you’re right—there are some bad people who know they’re bad and enjoy being that way. I’ve written a crazy villain or two in my day, but I don’t know if I’ve ever gone quite this far dark. I think it’s believable, though, and would be fun to explore.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. To me, those completely evil villains are almost like a force of nature in that their motivation is hard for people to understand if they’ve been normally socialized.

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  9. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  10. I like the depth of a villain’s character more than whether he turns hero or not. THAT bothers me more: an assumption evil and no reason for it.

    I also enjoy a good, cliché villain like Cardinal Richelieu in the film “Three Musketeers,” but I expect my book baddies to have a bit more.

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    • Funny how book baddies are held to higher standards. Even Richelieu had more than doing evil on his mind. Seems people really have trouble imagining a person who does evil for the sake of it. Yet, we chalk horrible acts of beasts up to it being their nature.

      Liked by 1 person

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