Why do people enjoy a good thriller or mystery? In large part it’s because we want to see the hero vanquish the villain, and while our focus is on the hero, the more threatening the villain, the greater the catharsis when the hero wins out.
In order for the story to connect with the reader, however, the villain needs to be believable. In comic books and science fiction, villains can have super powers because we know the good guys have whatever it will take to defeat them. In mysteries, suspense and psychological thrillers, on the other hand, the villain must represent a real, but not over-the-top threat.
Too often villains seem to have extraordinary powers––knowing for example where someone will be or what they will do before they know it, or being able to organize an army of tough guys willing to give up their lives to protect the evil boss. Doesn’t it seem like TV villains do stupid things like stand up in the middle of a shoot-out and take one in the chest?
That brings me to my beef with a lot of movies, TV shows and books with politician crooks. Lost, the TV series, for example, was driven by political figures with amazing reach and power. I get it that we don’t like politicians and we believe they have more money and power than they deserve, but organizing an army to work on their behalf. I just don’t buy those kind of stories.
Many villains have flawed personalities. That’s fine. I believe circumstances and choice can result in evil behavior. Those villains are hard to defeat also because they can’t be reasoned with and often are adept at hiding their true nature. The villain in Making the Grade, my second novel, is such a character. He’s an excellent actor who harbors resentment for slights that happened years ago.
Think about the villain in the book you’re currently reading. Has the author created a cardboard figure or a worthy opponent for the book’s protagonist? Let me know a villain who’s truly scary or one who doesn’t cut it in your eyes.