One thing I like to see in villains is rottenness. It's OK for them to have traumatic back-stories as long as their wickedness is not excused by them. One of the best examples, I think, is Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. He was indeed bullied as a kid, but that's no reason to be a complete monster, i.e. attempting to kill an infant. Cowardice helps, as do dishonesty and vile temperaments. Redwall's Cluny the Scourge is really cool but I don't remember him being especially horrible. Stated in a post from January is my view of being unethical instead of simply opposing the antagonist. Slagar from the same series was pretty horrid, though, but he was not allied to Cluny (the latter tried to have the former executed).
Earlier this evening I finished listening to a short (but shiver-sending) book known as The Bad Beginning, the first of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, of which there are thirteen installments - of course. On the one hand I felt the explanations to what the "big words" meant were not entirely necessary, but that was mostly made up for by the absolute bastard of a villain: Count Olaf. He was so evil that I actually felt my blood boiling whenever I heard his voice or name. At the same time, my spine went cold when he spoke; I think the fact that Tim Curry narrated the book helped this greatly. He was a manipulative, heartless, violent creep who intended to kill three young orphans in order to inherit their parents' vast fortune. Not something most folks would smile upon! He threatened to kill a toddler by having her dropped out of a tower window by an ally, and struck a boy across the face hard enough to bruise. The thing that made it all work, I think, is that while he had a plausible motive, there was no sympathy whatsoever for the man. This might sound dark of me, but I sincerely hope he dies in the end!
Screenwriter and novelist Alexandra Sokoloff has a post somewhere on her magnificent blog which instructs aspiring writers to name their ten favorite villains from books, movies, and the like. In no particular order, here are mine, based on evilness as well as coolness:
- Voldemort from Harry Potter
- Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious (Star Wars original trilogy)
- Randall Flagg (The Stand, The Dark Tower series, and The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King - among possible others)
- Grendel from Beowulf
- Gollum from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy
- The Joker from The Dark Knight
- Count Olaf
- The Beldam from Coraline
- Iago from Othello
These will probably change, but they are what came to mind. Stephen King, being a writer of horror, has many great villains, such as Percy Wetmore in The Green Mile and Annie Wilkes in Misery as well as Kurt Barlow ('Salem's Lot) and The Dark Tower's Crimson King and the demon-infested corpses in Pet Sematary, but I don't think that'd be fair to let Steve have all the slots. The nameless monster created by Dr. Frankenstein did a few truly awful things but I felt sympathy for it. Mary Shelley did this so beautifully that that is still my all-time favorite novel.
Currently my mind - and hopefully soon my pen! - is at work on what is hopefully a completely horrible villain. It's hard work, the creation of characters. Wish me luck!
PS. - Unseen villains, namely the Blair Witch, can be incredibly frightening if properly pulled off.