We Love to Hate Our Bad Guys
Villains abound in literature, and we love them all. Our love affair with the despicable guy or girl or creature began when we were small children, and our parents sat us on their laps and read to us about a wolf wanting to eat our grandmas. What fun. No, actually, if that wolf hadn’t been around, there would have been no story. A little girl just would have gone to visit a grandparent. Most of us had done that, so the story would have felt bland, just something we did, and so what?
But with a wolf? Having the author of that tale add what could have become a killer drew us in, and even if we didn’t root for him to succeed, we really liked having him there.
Again with a wolf and little pigs. Didn’t we love that one and want it read to us again and again? The wolf scared us just like it did the pigs—or maybe more than them. We knew the villain could kill them, and we hated him, but were so glad he was there. He got our little hearts racing, which we obviously liked.
Many more horrible creatures and characters populate those stories we all grew up with. We wanted more. And more.
One of the first love stories everyone yearned to hear about again and again and then read and then see in movies and books had a horrible stepmother. Didn’t we love hating how she treated this beautiful, sweet young woman? If she hadn’t, the young woman might have still met a prince one day and then fallen in love, but nobody would have made that situation difficult for the couple. Letting us detest the woman who treated the main character so badly drew us farther into the tale and swung our emotions.
And what we want from fiction is to do that—make us feel. Antiheroes do that. They make us inwardly want to boo and hiss at them just like audiences did with the characters we know so well from Shakespeare’s plays. The Greeks led us to know and love villains early on. In much more recent times, didn’t we all adore Hannibal Lecter?
Fiction needs continued conflict. A strong person or thing that keeps preventing our protagonist from getting what she wants makes our books much stronger, exactly like our heroines who grow from the experiences.
A blurb from my book Just One Friend gives a hint about bad guys:
Sixteen-year-old Alabama Long keeps her head high, even with the heavy metal ball the guards chained to her back. She feels the eyes of Tellers on her as she’s led down the dirt road to the old stadium, where a scanner checks the device implanted in her heel and wants the name of her friend. Her grandmother who’s raised her is the only person she can speak to freely while inside their dwelling, but why not one or more of those other teen girls she performs with? Or the Teller boy who watches her with a different kind of interest? Soon she’s thrust into realizing that the scruffy mutt who tries to jump hurdles with her will become the catalyst to send her and her friend to discover a better place—or their cruel deaths.
It’s a love story of survival and strength and cruel characters we love and hate. Making certain you add one or more antiheroes will creature strong stories for us all to enjoy.
June Shaw writes in various genres. She has served a number of terms as Published Author Liaison for RWA’s Southern Louisiana chapter and also represents her state on the board of Mystery Writers of America’s Southwest Chapter. She loves a good bad guy. www.juneshaw.com.