But how do you make him or her (wouldn’t dream of leaving you out, Maleficent, Delores, Cersei) more than a cardboard, mustache-twirling stereotype? Eric R. Asher, Jim Butcher, Faith Hunter, Jeanne C. Stein, and R.R. Virdi discussed the traits of great villains on “Necessary Evil: Villains in Urban Fantasy,” Friday at 2PM on the Fan Tracks channel, moderated by Carol Malcolm.
A villain, Virdi explained, gives the protagonist a challenge to overcome. The bigger the challenge, the better, so the villain needs to be strong. According to Butcher, you can never have a villain that’s “too awesome.” He noted that Darth Vader was a great villain in part because he was so powerful. Hunter added that it’s important to push the protagonist “to the edge,” so a great villain should have strengths that challenge the protagonist’s weaknesses. But those strengths, Asher pointed out, must fit the rules of the world they inhabit.
What makes a powerful villain believable, though? Villains, Stein said, shouldn’t be purely evil. They should be the star of their own story, cast in shades of gray. Hunter suggested creating a well-motivated villain who believes he is in the right. Asher likes villains who have charisma and can get people to do things—the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing type. Heroes, Butcher said, are defined by their traits, but villains are defined by what they lack, something missing in their personality that most people have, like empathy. Think Hannibal Lecter.
What’s the difference between a villain and a monster in urban fantasy? Stein classifies villains as humans and monsters as the supernatural equivalent. Virdi enjoys blurring the lines between humans and monsters, giving monsters human motivations. But both, he sagely noted, can be monsters.