Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chilling Villains

Now that my book, Only Fear, is out there, available to the whole wide world, I received some unexpected feedback. I was scaring people. My killer isn’t a nice guy—he’s actually pretty gruesome—but I thought I had toned down most of his scenes. I certainly didn’t expect people to say how shockingly scary I was, or that they had to read with the lights on. (That one makes me laugh… of course you’d read with the lights on!)

But moi, scaring people? Am I more unbalanced than I thought? Apparently, editing the story a zillion times took the edge off of the fright factor for me. Or maybe I’ve got a talent for connecting psychologically with the villain’s point of view (let’s not dig too deeply there, shall we?).

So, what makes a truly chilling villain?

I think the answer lies partly in their psychological makeup. When I read about or see a villain on the big screen, I want to understand how they became that way, and why they’re doing what they’re doing. If there’s no good reason, I lose interest.

I also like the villains to be a true challenge for the hero/heroine. They need to be just as smart and strong as the protagonists to give them a real run for their money.

Finally, for me, the most chilling villains are the ones you don’t see coming. The ones you thought were the sweet next door neighbor or the caring coworker. But everyone has a dark side. Apparently, mine was darker than I thought!

Who are some of your “favorite” villains? What qualities chill you the most?

14 comments:

Toni Anderson said...

Well done on scaring people!
I agree on needing good motivations for villains. Knowing your bad guy from the inside out, and loving them a little despite everything, is what writers do.

Anne Marie Becker said...

I never thought about it that way, Toni, but you're right... you gotta love your bad guy a little to make him come to life. Guess he wouldn't "talk" to me otherwise. ;)

Shirley Wells said...

I agree that sometimes the real scary villains are those you don't see coming. There's often a certain moment when you suddenly doubt the sweet neighbour or the kind teacher. I love that. :)

I love the slightly edgy, mildly unbalanced characters that you start out liking, even sympathising with, only to realise that, hey, they're totally off the wall unbalanced.

Congrats! It's great to scare people. :)

Rita said...

Great post Ann Marie. Chilling and horrifying to me are the people who seem do normal and you would never suspect them of the horrors they are committing. I refer to Silence of the Lambs a lot but it has all the chill factors. The director had his pick of dozens of scary Hollywood villains. Yet he decided on Anthony Hopkins, a 5’6” mild mannered British gentleman. Talk about never seeing it coming. What about the real life wackos? Ted Bundy was a charming good-looking guy. Ewwww! I mean there are so many more.

JB Lynn said...

LOL I got a lot of those same complaints for my book. For me, a villain's lack of conscience is always chilling to me.

I remember loving Cassanova in James Patterson's KISS THE GIRLS. He was just sooooo creepy!

Marcelle Dubé said...

Good post, Anne-Marie, and congrats on your ability to scare people. :-) I always think of villains as people just like my heros, with their own desperate wants and desires. The main difference is the villain is willing to do just about anything to reach his goal.

MaureenAMiller said...

Gosh Anne-Marie, even the picture gives me the heebie-jeebies. :)

You should be so proud to get feedback like that. I take that as meaning you have mastered your art.

You never know who could be a villain. I have video footage of Toni Anderson sitting up in a tree, throwing marshmallows at the mailman. :)

Toni Anderson said...

O_o
There's a problem with doing that? :) I wish I was a villain, rather than a walkover.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Shirley, those people we meet who are so syrupy sweet and charming that it can't be possible... it often isn't! I've known people so charming it's creepy. LOL

Thanks, Rita! Anthony Hopkins' character in Silence of the Lambs is the first villain who pops to my mind whenever I think "chilling."

I also wonder about those men who have multiple families/wives and no one ever suspects. It's amazing how trusting we can be.

Anne Marie Becker said...

JB - lack of conscience is indeed chilling. Sociopaths, who have no care for how others are impacted by their actions are fascinating.

Marcelle - great way to think about it. The villain has goals just as powerful as the hero/heroine's And they're often not constrained by those pesky rules of society. LOL

Anne Marie Becker said...

Maureen - Toni in a tree throwing marshmallows? Now THAT's an image. ;) We all have a dark and twisted side... just think what we do to those poor marshmallows to indulge our s'mores cravings... Mwahahaha...

Carol Stephenson said...

Hmm, I'm beginning to wonder if the actor's first name has to be 'Anthony' to be a chilling villain. My all time fav is Anthony Perkins in Psycho.

Anne Marie Becker said...

Carol - LOL - at first I thought your Anthony comment was because of our reference to Toni...now I understand (must be getting too late for me to be coherent!).

Hmmm... maybe the villain in my next book should be Anthony. You raise a good point. ;)

Mike Keyton said...

There are some villains you respect, some tiny part of you hoping they'll win. Case in point is Steerpike on the Gormenghast trilogy.