I like villain characters. I like the kind with motivations and goals and loves and hates, the ones that jump off the page, grab you by the throat and shout to be noticed. For me, the villain has to be just as real as the heroes, or how could they ever be a match? Every Holmes needs a Moriarty, after all. Someone they’d actually jump off a cliff to get rid of, someone they’d fight just because they are fundamentally opposed to one another.
I also love it when the author tricks us, makes us feel for the villain even when they’ve done things we find unforgiveable. It’s not easy to achieve, but when it works it’s fantastic. Unfortunately, when it doesn’t it can be very bad.
But not all characters who make the wrong choices, or who believe things we don’t agree with are villains. I like to experiment with characters who are morally grey, who do things they’re not always proud of, or who make the wrong choices, or who believe things that I find hard to wrap my head around. In the writing of these characters, I feel as if I reach some sort of understanding of human nature. We all make mistakes, do things we’re not proud of, believe things we come to see as foolish or just plain wrong.
But just how far can that be pushed? Just how much will a reader forgive a character for? What kinds of beliefs, actions and opinions are we willing to overlook? What will instantly get a reader’s ire up? Is there a clear line separating “villain” and “likeable character?” Are we more likely to forgive humans their flaws, because we understand them so well?
That’s another reason I enjoy fantasy and science fiction. They give me a way to see these behaviors through other points of view, points of view that don’t share the same expectations, the same moral, social or cultural boundaries. I think it reveals humanity when it is viewed by an outside observer. And if you can reflect a particular trait or belief or ideal in a dozen mirrors, you can see it from a dozen points of view.
And all of those views have something to tell us. They contain within them some comment upon the reflected trait or belief or ideal. Even the villains tell us something, maybe especially the villains.