V is for villains

I have a dark secret. I love villains. Any villains.

When I started to write books properly (and by that I mean finish them), I started to check the story from the point of view of the hero or heroine. I’d go right through the whole story in the mindset of the villain(s).

It changes everything – and it’s quite addictive. They have a way of taking over your mind, the plot, the whole book, and completely distorting the whole blinking series if you let them.

They are so much more fun. No rules apply. Actually, that’s not true. There has to be a motive, a psychological quirk, or whatever, but they break the social rules. And perhaps that’s the point.

I ponder literary villains from time to time for inspiration. Shakespearean villains are interesting. There are several PhDs in that alone. I say Iago, you say potato. Personally, I think Othello was a naughty boy, too.

Moriarty is cool in his demonic Victorian way and female villains can be terrific, too: Lady de Winter and Irene Adler to name a couple. Personally, I have a penchant for the nouveau ‘period’ literature, such as A Critique of Criminal Reason, where new villains turn up, darker, more demented and infinitely more dangerous than anything from the actual 19th century, in my view.

Agatha Christie's villains can be made more chilling with the support of a great costume unit and David Suchet’s dark imploring eyes, but I realised a little while ago which villains I prefer. Forget Sir Jasper, or the butler, I find the Ripleys of this world the most dangerous and exciting. He (and it’s usually he) is a chameleon-like charmer who adapts to surroundings. And he/she has to win.

It’s not new, of course. I’ve come to realise that a modest little book from 16th-century Spain featured the best villain I’ve ever come across. Lazarillo de Tormes was a quaint little episodic chapter book about a poor boy making his way in the world. Aah.

The trick is, you think he’s reasonable, this poor starving orphan in need of a new master. As he works his way up the system, dumping each new boss (without actually murdering them, as far as I can tell), he acquires all their sins. It’s picaresque, creating a rogue as a hero. But he’s not heroic. He’s a survivor, and has no moral conscience at all. Booo. It’s also in the first person, which is clever, because it’s persuasive, yet leaves out some incriminating details.

When I was scouting around for a new book idea, I suddenly decided to try things from this type of perspective. Not an out-and-out dark-souled demon, mwah-ha-ha, but a child who has to make do. And Viktor Radislav was born. ‘Dexter meets the Borgias’ is the tagline in my head.

I don’t have nightmares at all about how he has to bump off his rivals. Not a qualm do I feel when deciding which poison to use, or which stiletto. Getting rid of the bodies is intellectually taxing, but not disturbing.

I should be unsettled, but I’ve written so many stories about so many do-gooders, saving various worlds (past, present, future and imagined) from evil, I feel it’s time to exercise some alternative emotional muscles.

Viktor ‘I’m a murdering bastard. Literally’ Radislav. Machiavelli’s Acolyte.* Well, I’m hooked. What will he do next?

*Shameless plug. Normally I wouldn’t, but a villain would.

By Pamela Kelt

Oh, go on. Who's your favourite bad guy or gal? 

Edwin Booth as Iago  
Patricia Cutts as Milady de Winter with Maximilian Schell as D'Artagnan from a 1960 television presentation of The Three Musketeers


  1. I have a minor addiction for Alan Rickman playing baddies. I have watched Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves so many times, because I keep hoping that the infinitely preferrable Sheriff of Nottingham will win this time. He is so beautifully portrayed and so much more interesting. Why was he fostered out to a witch? What made him so ruthless?
    His slightly foreign but perfectly English-speaking villain in the Die Hard film had me enthralled too. I don't go for sweaty men in vests so Bruce Willis left me cold but the elegant, amoral villain... ooooooooh

    1. Oh, I’d forgotten the dastardly sheriff. Rickman has the right sneer - which makes him so perfect as Snape, too. Actually, I’ve just remembered Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisbourne in the recent TV Robin Hood. Yum.

      Thanks for reading the blog and commenting. Much appreciated …



  2. Pam, you are so right when you say that it is important to see your manuscript through your villains eyes also! It makes for a much stronger and well rounded story when both the good and bad characters are given full voice.

    I have a ya novel coming out this summer that is nothing but villains. King of Bad is about super villains and it was very difficult to walk the line between keeping them bad enough to be believable villains and also making them likable so the readers pull for them to succeed (in their villainy!? What?) I know, another shameless plug, which I don't mean to do, but the experience deserved to be shared for this particular post and my villains were all smirking at the opportunity.

    Finally - Alan Rickman rocks the bad guy role. Love him.

  3. Hi, Kai,

    Love the title! And nothing wrong with a shameless plug from time to time. And you’re not the only fan of Alan Rickman!

    Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and make a comment. Good luck with your bad guys.



  4. This is a great idea. My scenes are stronger when they come from my antagonist's POV. They do tend to take over, though, and they fight dirty!

  5. Who doesn't love a villain?

    My favorite bad guy is still Dracula. Love the book. Loved all the movies.

    Tim Brannan
    The Other Side and The Witch
    Red Sonja: She-Devil with a Sword
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

  6. Glamorous, too. Can't believe I forgot to include him ... I still like the old movies with Bela Lugosi.

  7. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like
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    the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is fantastic blog.
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