I started my day today by reading Alison DeLuca’s great blog, Fresh Pot of Tea this morning, and her topic is Redemption. She has written an awesome post on villains and redemption, and I suggest you pay a visit to her blog and read the post.
Redemption in your villains is a topic that interests me, because in the Tower of Bones series I have a nasty villain, Baron Stefyn D’Mal, who is, in many ways modeled on the original Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know man, Lord Byron (if he were wholly devoted to the God of Darkness and was crazy on steroids.)
In the first book, Tower of Bones, we discover some of D’Mal’s history, and there is some reason to feel bad for the child he once was, but he is in no way a good guy.
In Forbidden Road, Stefyn D’Mal interacts with the protagonists somewhat less directly, but his influence is no less profound on the outcome of the tale, and his evil God has him firmly in hand.
Why are we attracted to tales of Redemption? Is it because we are aware of our own frailties and when we are immersed in the redemption of the fictional evil genius, whom we have secretly admired, we are some how redeemed ourselves? I think for me there is a secret relief in the notion that by one selfless act of heroism a person can counter a lifetime of misdeeds.
I’ve had a novel on the back burner since 1998 that will probably never be published, because it is terribly flawed and pretty outdated now. But I love the characters. In this tale there is one character who is not really a central character but her stubbornness causes no end of trouble for her family. But in the end, she jumps between the shooter and her niece because the desire to protect those you love is sometimes stronger than common sense.
I think that having a really great villain makes a story compelling. Great villains are why we read Harry Potter, and the Lord of the Rings. The Wheel of Time has great villains–a LOT of them– which is what drives the plot(s). When I read a book with villains that really frighten me I return to it later and analyze what it is about that character that inspired such an emotional reaction in me. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at what Robert Jordan did with the Forsaken. Lanfear and Asmodean were frequently pleasant, engaging people and one could feel a certain sympathy for them despite the knowledge that they were evil. Even Demandred had a certain cachet that one could relate to.
This makes writing your villains complicated. They are bad, or they wouldn’t be villains, they’d be the heroes. But it is a rare person who is completely consumed by evil, and so when we see the softer side of the devil we grudgingly like him.
Who knew Satan was a cat-lady?