Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What The Well-Dressed Villain Is Wearing These Days

By Bonnie Randall

Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor) 

I admit I am bad at this. I have a terrible tendency to craft stock, cardboard bad guys—one of the things I am most critical of in my own writing. So it is in the spirit of the old adage ‘those who can’t do, teach’ that I am sharing the following traits which, as an observer, I’ve found to be the most authentic ‘clothing’ a villain can wear:

1. A Flawless Face

At first blush this one will seem like a cliché—the gorgeous villain—but bear with me through a little psychology behind it. Many villains have narcissistic natures; self-absorbed, grandiose, prideful and propelled by an astonishing level of arrogance. So egocentric that they are devoid of the capacity for empathy and compassion that would otherwise make them fully human.

So where does the flawless face fit in?

Well, here is a little known by-product of the narcissist’s inability to feel compassion. Because these creatures are untouched by life’s travails and tragedies, heartache literally does not touch their person the same way it creates, say, worry lines in the foreheads of others. Puckered lines around mouths that have winced in commiseration. Even laugh lines that bracket the eyes of someone who knows how to share a joke (for that’s empathy too).

The narcissist’s face, by contrast, is remarkably unmarred. Hence a villain often looks smoother, and younger, than they really should. (For a superb example of this portrayed in film, check out Charlize Theron’s performance in Snow White & the Huntsman from a few years back).

2. An Analytical Astuteness That Borders On Psychic

A good villain, be he a narcissist or otherwise personality disordered, (Borderlines make excellent villains) may not be effected in any empathic way by others’ emotions…but they are still damn sure aware of them. Again, because they are unencumbered by sentiment, a good villain will be able, quite bloodlessly, to read another person with the ease of perusing a Dick ’n Jane storybook (Hannibal Lecter, anyone remember him?)

Predators who have spent a lifetime stalking their prey, a good villain knows what you need before you need it, and their ruthless, omniscient observational skills will have honed in on and catalogued even your most idiosyncratic vulnerabilities. (Ahem! Recall how Hannibal knew Clarice had a Band-Aid on. -chills- ). These creatures can predict what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, and—if they are the manipulative sort—will also know precisely what help you need and be prepared to offer it. Because having you indebted to them will make the ‘final kill’ that much more satisfying to their black-hearted souls.

3. They Are Right—Exceedingly, And A Lot

A by-product of number 2. Because villains are such canny analysts, they are frequently and gallingly right a lot of the time. So while you want to disagree with them….you can’t because they are correct. An example of this comes from my beloved Grey’s Anatomy, where sour Dr. Robert Stark demands his residents call Social Services on a beautiful, loving family whose son nearly dies from a medical condition overlooked due to the preoccupation with the mom’s dx of early-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Was it cruel and heartless to call Protection on a family every other doctor (and the viewers) loved? Yes. Was Stark correct in his assessment? Yes. Dammit!

4. Breathtaking Immaturity

Intelligence? Check.

Articulate? Check.

Chronologically an Adult or at least a Young Adult? Check.

Emotional Maturity? …. -frogs croak, crickets chirp-

Villains are—both subtly and unsubtly—temper-tampering two year olds. They are prone to lash out impulsively, sometimes sadistically (ahem! Delores Umbridge’s punishment for Harry: “I must not tell lies” cravenly carved into his flesh by his own hand). And if/when villains don’t impulsively act out, we still often see it—it’s revealed in how their internal architecture begins to crumble as they start to disintegrate within our Act IVs.

An obvious example of a villain’s immaturity can be pulled from vintage episodes of M*A*S*H—wasn’t Frank Burns the most insufferable child?

Or what about Stephen King’s brilliant creation in Misery’s Annie Wilkes? Her language drew back the curtain on her inner immaturity (“Cock-a-doodie!”) and what did she have a collection of? She was an adult, yet harbored an unlikely assortment of cutesy little figurines—the little penguin dressed-for-snow getting poor Paul hobbled when Annie (remember—villains have uncanny observation skills!)—noticed that it was ever-so-slightly out of place.

Peel back the motives of most villains and there is often some sort of teeming notion of injustice or resentment being harbored inside….and it is frequently rooted in some deeply stunted immaturity that’s questing for either superiority or for an even more base need to just ‘have their way’.

Right, then! What would you add? What would you expand on? What other examples of any of the above have been crafted so well that you’d like to share with the rest of us? Comments, as always, welcome!


Bonnie RandallBonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Bonnie Randall Divinity and the Python
Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

The Cards Forecast Work

Shaynie Gavin is so much more than the sexy siren who mixes cocktails at The Python. A carpenter with a business plan, Shaynie is trying to amass enough funds to launch her own dream - Divinity, a place where up-cycled furniture from the past is sold alongside Tarot readings forecasting the future - and all in a setting that could not be more perfect: a former funeral parlor. Shaynie's belief that Divinity is attuned with the passions, the loves, and even the lies of its departed souls, allow her to feel satisfied when the cards she draws there reveal Wands, the Tarot's symbol for work. And yet...Shaynie would be so grateful if the Tarot would also, just once, illuminate a Hellnight from her past. A lost evening whose scars still slither over her skin, Hellnight haunts Shaynie. Yet when she calls the question of that chilling evening into her deck...

The Cards Forecast Love

...and love appears in the form of pro hockey star Cameron Weste. Weste is haunted by scars and superstitions of his own, and he wants Shaynie's Tarot to answer far deeper questions than she first guesses this sexy Lothario to be capable of. Who knew Weste was this intense? The Tarot, apparently. And yet...

The Cards Forecast The Devil

When Cameron Weste lands in her life, a stalker surfaces too, dropping clues to a connection between Shaynie, Cameron, and her lost, brutal Hellnight. Suddenly every card warns of deception, and nowhere feels safe. Shaynie and Cameron have to fight for their love - and their lives - as The Devil, their stalker, is determined to turn the Death Card for them both.


  1. My number one trick to writing bad guys is not writing bad guys. As the saying goes, everyone is the hero of their own story. No matter how evil someone looks from the outside, it's unlikeky they'll consider themselves that. So I try to see things from their perspective. What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they rationalise what they do as good?

    (Sude note, but I'm uncomfortable with the way narcissists are described as almost not human in this article. Narcissists exist in real life, and while there's a time and place to discuss how narcissistic behaviour can harm others, dehumanising them is not the way to go.)

    1. Sorry the article generated discomfort for you.

  2. You have hit on an important aspect of real life villains. They are often charismatic sociopaths.

  3. I think another interesting facet to villains is that they sometimes appear as the protagonist's mentor. And perhaps they intend to be, but their selfish agenda runs counter to the hero. Rodrigo from Mozart in the Jungle is a prime example. (If you haven't seen it, I dare you, though it is binge-inducing.)

  4. I loved this, your post came at a good point for me in my WIP. Thanks, gonna share with my readers.