Villains Don’t Have to be Evil

Guest Post from: L.J. Sellers, author of provocative mysteries & thrillers
Jordan Dane

As my guest today, I have mystery thriller author L. J. Sellers writing about one of my favorite topics: Villains. LJ shares her thoughts and asks you to share your favorite villains at the end of her post. And be sure to check out the great giveaway contests below. Take it away, LJ!

The villains in thrillers are often extraordinary human beings. Super smart, physically indestructible, and/or incredibly powerful because of their money and influence. As a reader/consumer, those characters are fun for me too, especially in a visual medium where we get to watch them be amazing. But as an author, I like to write about antagonists who are everyday people—either caught up in extraordinary circumstances or so wedded to their own belief system and needs that they become delusional in how they see the world.
In my Detective Jackson stories, I rarely write from the POV of the antagonists. That would spoil the mystery! But in my thrillers, I get inside those characters’ heads so my readers can get to know them and fully understand their motives. I’ve heard readers complain about being subjected to the “bad guy POV,” but that’s typically when the antagonist is a serial killer or pure evil in some other way.
I share their pain. I don’t enjoy the serial-killer POV reading experience either. But when the villain in the story is a fully realized human being, who has good qualities as well as bad, and who’s suffered some type of victimization, and/or has great intentions, then I like see and feel all of that. And I think most readers do too.

Sellers The Trigger_med
In The Trigger, the antagonists are brothers, Spencer and Randall Clayton, founders of an isolated community of survivalists, or preppers, as they’re called today. As with most real-life isolationists/cult leaders, they are intelligent, successful professionals—with a vision for a better society. But these everyday characters decide to mold the world to suit their own objectives and see themselves as saviors—becoming villains in the process.

From a writer’s perspective, they were challenging to craft—likeable and believable enough for readers to identify with, yet edgy enough to be threatening on a grand scale. On the other hand, my protagonist Jamie Dallas, an FBI agent who specializes in undercover work, was such a joy to write that I’m launching a new series based on her.

The first book, The Trigger, releases January 1 in print and ebook formats, with an audiobook coming soon after. To celebrate the new series, the ebook will be on sale for $.99 on launch day. Everyone who buys a copy (print or digital) and forwards their Amazon receipt to will be entered to win a trip to Left Coast Crime 2015. For more details, check my website.
If that weren’t enough, I’m also giving away ten $50 Amazon gift certificates. So there’s a good chance of winning something. But the contest is only valid for January 1 purchases.
Who are your favorite villains? Supermen types? Everyday delusionals? Or something else?
Sellers LJSellers medL.J. Sellers writes the bestselling Detective Jackson mystery series—a two-time Readers Favorite Award winner—as well as provocative standalone thrillers. Her novels have been highly praised by reviewers, and her Jackson books are the highest-rated crime fiction on Amazon. L.J. resides in Eugene, Oregon where most of her novels are set and is an award-winning journalist who earned the Grand Neal. When not plotting murders, she enjoys standup comedy, cycling, social networking, and attending mystery conferences. She’s also been known to jump out of airplanes.
Other social media links for LJ: Website, Blog, Facebook

17 thoughts on “Villains Don’t Have to be Evil

  1. Welcome to my good friend and client, LJ Sellers! Not to mention fellow blog-mate over at Crime Fiction Collective. Great to see you here at TKZ, LJ!

    As for LJ’s new thriller, The Trigger, I had the pleasure of editing this novel, and I loved the story and the protagonist, gutsy, smart, and savvy FBI agent Jamie Dallas. I can assure readers you’re in for a treat!

  2. There’s an adage in acting that applies here: When asked to play an angel, find the devil in him. When asked to play the devil, find the angel in him. One-dimensional characters are boring to watch, and equally boring to read. A murderer with a soft spot for stray cats or who helps out an adult literacy program has the kind of human quirks and foibles that readers find fascinating.

  3. Thanks for the reminder about villains, L.J. I need to keep that in mind with my WIP. I just read a book in which the antagonist was very two-dimensional. I hated that part of the book.

    I heard a great quote about villains. I think it is from a screenwriter. To paraphrase: The best villains think they are the heroes of the story.

  4. I forget who said this, but every villain is the hero of his own story. We don’t need to aggrandize him–he’ll be busy doing that for us–but we can’t ignore his point of view, even if we don’t actively show it in the book.

  5. It does help, however, to make sure the villain has some characteristics that the vast mass of readers will perceive as bad. You don’t want a villain that readers who differ from you will perceive as better than the hero.

  6. My favorite villain comes from a television show, not a book. In the television series “Lost”, Benjamin Linus started out as a bad guy, but he was a bad guy that I loved! And it was clear that he thought he was the hero. Hey, he even said, “We’re the good guys.” I loved him because, while he clearly was dangerous, he was also intelligent, and faithful, and he knew how to get what he wanted. ~ R.L. Black

    • Some bad guys are really likable (Dexter, for example), and some good guys in fiction/TV have so many flaws they’re unlikable. I like that writers mix it up.

  7. I love the Villains in Once Upon A Time on TV. Rumplestiltskin, the evil Queen from Snow White, Captain Hook, and even Peter Pan have a dark side, but the show explores the characters to such a depth that you understand and sympathize with how they got to be that way.

  8. I think my all-time favorite in terms of how he is written is Dollarhyde, from Harris’s RED DRAGON. There’s an entire section dealing with his mother and his grandmother that reveal so much. When a writer can make someone feel sympathy for a monster, they’ve done something special.

  9. In my first novel I have alternating chapters between good guy POV and bad guy POV. The biggest complaint I get is that the good guy chapters are too long and they just want to get to the bad guy ones.

Comments are closed.