Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Character Only A Mother Can Love


By Sandra Elzie

Years ago when ONE FLEW OVER THE COOCOO’S NEST was up for Academy Awards, (in 1975) the nasty nurse, Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher, won for Best Supporting Actress. Her acceptance speech consisted of: “Thank you for hating me so much.”

This woman had portrayed a character that we love to hate…the villain. If done well, the villain is as important to your story as your hero and heroine and can come in the guise of an ex-wife or ex-husband, ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend or just about any nasty, mean person who wants to hurt our beloved hero or heroine in some way.

So, what makes a good villain? Do they have to be ugly and vile? Absolutely not! Not all villains look like Captain Hook. Some look like Jane Fonda as the beautiful but jealous mother (mother-in-law) in Monster-In- Law who would stop at nothing to drive her son’s new girlfriend, Jennifer Lopez, from the picture.

In a story that I recently sold to Avalon Books, the villain was a beautiful, but jealous secretary who felt my heroine had intruded into her territory and she was determined to rid herself of the new tutor who had grabbed the attention of the diplomat and effectively had pushed the secretary to the shadows.

“Trenton, I just heard and had to call you right away. Isn’t it awful? I couldn’t believe it when I was told how careless your nanny was today with poor little Kelsey. The child must be frightened half to death,” Jennifer said, her shrill voice carrying over the phone wire to irritate him while he sat drinking brandy.

“Well, it wasn’t as bad…”

“You don’t have to make light of the situation on my account. I know you like the woman since she’s been doing such a good job up until today, but you have to admit that there are a lot of good teachers, so you don’t have to keep her just because she’s smart. No, in fact, you can’t afford to keep her in the house since she so blatantly put Kelsey’s life in danger. You have a responsibility as a father to do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe.”

Ah, the manipulator at her best, but a villain, non-the-less.

The fun part of watching the villain in a movie is that you know his day will come. Payment is almost always demanded of someone who is selfish, cruel or heartless. But I think it’s even more fun to be the writer of a villain’s story because then I get to choose how the person goes down. Revenge can be quick and decisive or slow and savored. Either way, the good guy wins and the bad guy loses. In my opinion, that’s the way all books and movies should end since life isn’t always fair and the bad guy sometimes gets away with the loot and/or the girl. I hate it when that happens and I don’t keep those movies or books, since I will never pick them up again. They had their 15 minutes of glory in my house and now they’re banished.

So I have to ask my readers the following questions. Have you ever watched a movie or read a book where you absolutely loved the villain character? Have you ever cheered for the villain? (Admit it if you dare) And lastly, have you ever written a villain into one of your stories that you would die rather than part with if your editor told you to delete them?

Come on, bare the dark side of your souls and tell us about your favorite vile, evil characters.


Debbie Kaufman said...

Morning all! I usually get hooked on those pseudo-villains, like Timothy Hutton on the new TV show, Leverage. A good guy who goes bad to do the right thing. Sort of a Robin Hood figure. But, the bottom line is he's become one of the people that he used to put in jail. Just not as bad of a guy as the other bad guys.

Marilyn Baron said...

What about the hero who is also a villain? I love the TV show "Dexter," which portrays a complex lead character who works for the Miami police department but is also a vigilante type serial killer.

The show is so well written and his character so well developed that I have no trouble symphathizing with him. He only kills people who deserved to be killed.

Marilyn Baron

Sandy Elzie said...

I've never watched Leverage, but I love the Robin Hood type character. I could see myself breaking the law...for the right reason.

Marilyn, I love the Dexter character. I'd like to think that if someone killed one of my family that there would be a hero out there who would step over the line...if punish the one who had turned my family upside down.


Anna Steffl said...

My favorite villainesse is an oldie but goodie -- the pompous, artful Caroline Bingley of P&P.

Everyone laugh -- I loved Russell Crowe's villain in 3:10 to Yuma.

Great post, as usual, Sandy.

Pamela Varnado said...

You're right. Payback is sooo sweet when the villain gets what's coming to him. I tend to write Hanibal type villains, but always give them a sympathic reason for being so nasty. In the romantic suspense novel I just finished, my villain strangles females that he believes are unfit parents. His own mother deserted him and he ended up in the foster system where he was abused.

CiCi Barnes said...

How many of you watch 24? I would say that Jack is a villain much of the time. But, gosh, don't you root for him all the way? He's not afraid to do what has to be done and sometimes does care who he hurts or how, to make things right. I may not have the hutzpah to be that vile, even when necessary, but I'm glad someone out there is, to keep our country safe from those who want to do us harm.


terrio said...

Sticking with the Robin Hood thing, I loved Alan Rickman's portrayal of the sheriff in the Costner version. He was horrible but funny and frustrated and you just couldn't hate him all the way.

I don't really write true villains, but I like the idea of giving characters their come-uppance when its deserved. And those characters are usually based on real people I know. :)

Sandy Elzie said...

Ladies, thanks for dropping in and commenting.

Anna- I loved 310 to Yuma and Russell Crowe did an excellent job in his role.

Pamela, Your characters sound great. I know I can almost forgive the vile, evil one if there's enough reason for me to feel sorry for him.

Terrio, I agree that it makes me feel good when someone gets what's coming to them (good or bad) Remember Dirty Harry? He's not a gun pointed at the villain and asking him if he feels lucky. Loved it! And the whimpy, whiny little weasel deserved EVERYTHING he got in that movie.

CiCi. I couldn't have said it better. The police, just like our military, are doing a job I wouldn't want to do. Whether or not we're for the war in Iraq, I hope that we can look at our soldiers (since it's a voluntary military) as heros and heroines. I have no desire to get shot at. My hat if off to every single one of them.

Cyrano said...

Interesting take Sandy,
Hmmm, now let me see, I love the Devil on the show Reaper. Anyone watch that series? He's so smooth and debonair with his silk suits and bleeched smile. He's perfectly evil and well...develish.
How about Cujo? He was a sweet dog before that rabid bat bit him on the nose. Sure he mauled a few people and terrorized the heroine, forcing her to bake in a hot car while he painted the windshield and doors with frothy slobber, but I kinda felt sorry for the big smelly pooch in the end.
Anyone like the Back to the Future trilogy? How about Biff Tannen? Love to hate that guy, "Why don't you make like a tree and get outta here."
And I completely agree with Marilyn, Russell Crowe as Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma, was fantabulous.
In my novel Sophie White and the Seven Drag Queens, my viallain is of course, a woman (the wicked queen for all intents and purposes in this contemporary romance) She's completely unhinged and jealousy drives her to attempted murder. She tries to kill Sophie with a nice apple martini. Worry not, Prince Charming (otherwise known as Leo Prince, ex pro quarterback) saves the day. Gosh I need to submit that thing already!
I love, love, love a good villain!
Great post Sandy.
Have a beautiful evening all,

Sandy Elzie said...


What an interesting comment! I loved Cujo...he scared the @#$% out of me. It's a wonder I ever grew up to once own 2 Dobermans...what with all their teeth and reputation. (g)

As to Back to the Future...loved those movies as well, and I must admit that I was overjoyed when young Biff's car ran into the manure truck. Like I said, I love it when the bad guy gets what's coming to him and it was poetic that a pile of stuff should be dumped on a person who was such a pile of stuff himself.

A pleasant evening to all.


Mary Marvella said...

My villains aren't usually loved by their mothers. I enjoy villains who fool other people. I have a school principal who is so desperate he becomes a villain. He sets up a camera in her house and puts embarrassing photos on the Internet.

Some people were weired out that I could make a school official a bad guy.

Maxine Davis said...

Oh yes, love to hate villains. I can't wait to read your book from Avalon - it sounds great!

Probably no one would agree, but I find myself feeling sorry for Alan Rickman as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series (yes, I am very much a fan). He can be such a villain and totally looks the part, but you do find out there is a reason. It's worth the long read to find out how it ends

Sorry I was a day late reading your post. Was at my sister's and she does not have a computer nor wants one - and, you know, her life is really not complicated.
Brenda Maxine

Linsey Lanier said...

I'm so late with this comment, probably no one will read it, but I want to mention Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad. I got hooked on season one last year.

This character is a great study in the balance between good and bad impulses that we've been discussing.

A bad hero. A high school chemistry teacher who turns to crime after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, so he can leave his family enough to live on. Talk about pathos.

Great excerpt, Sandy.