The Villain’s Journey

The problem with blogging after Alex is that I feel inferior. She knows so much
more than I do about story and story structure that I feel wholly inadequate.

But I wanted to talk about villains, because villains are near and dear to my
heart. So even though I’m practically dying to hear more about what Alex says
about villains, I’m going to put out my own theories about what works—and what
doesn’t—with I read villains.

I never realized that villains were so important in my writing until I received
my revision letter for my debut novel. My editor said that the scenes where I
went into my villain’s POV were so strong that she wanted more of them.

I was taken aback a bit because I had not consciously thought about the structure
of the story and the villain’s POV specifically. Since I write
organically—without an outline or plan—I tend to write whatever scene is
logically happening at that time in the story. So I went back and added a
couple scenes in logical places where my editor felt that either adding or expanding
on the villain’s POV would make the book stonger.

Then the marketing material came out about my debut trilogy. My publisher likened my
style to “Julie Garwood meets Thomas Harris.”

I have a confession to make. At that point (2005), I had never read Julie
Garwood OR Thomas Harris.

I thought then that Julie Garwood only wrote historicals. And while I had seen the movie
SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, I’d never read the book.

What did I do next? Well, the obvious. I bought all the Julie Garwood romantic
suspense novels and all Thomas Harris novels (though I haven’t read HANNIBAL

I still don’t quite get the connection, but at least I have a glimmer
of understanding. The Julie Garwood connection was more to establish my romance
roots, while the Thomas Harris connection was to show how I was different than
a traditional romantic suspense. Because few romantic suspense novelists go
deep into the psyche of the killer. (My friend Karen Rose is one—if you haven’t
read her, you should.) But honestly, Garwood and Harris are so phenomenal as
storytellers that I knew the comparison was more a marketing gimmick than

I have another confession. I’m not a huge fan of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Yes, it’s a
brilliant movie and a great book. The primary villain, Hannibal, is alluring on
many different levels (largely due to Anthony Hopkins performance which in many
ways influenced my reading of the book, so I don’t have a good assessment of
the novel because it’s so intertwined with the movie.) But I’m not a fan because
of the heroine: I did not like Clarice Starling. I wanted her to succeed, and I
admired her overcoming her fears at the end of the book and going into the
lion’s den to rescue the girl in the pit from Buffalo Bill, the serial killer.
But as a heroine, I thought she made several TSTL mistakes.

First, she revealed far too much about herself to Hannibal. Second, when Hannibal
escaped, she didn’t fear for herself. What she says to her friend at Quantico
that he “won’t go after me” is just stupid. Okay, maybe she thinks he wouldn’t,
but good Lord! He just skinned a man and put the dead man’s face over his and
lay there waiting for someone to “save” him. He’s ruthless and vicious and a
genius. Alluring and repulsive at the same time. So yeah, she might have
intuitively known he wouldn’t go after her, but dammit, she should be scared
anyway—if not for herself, then for everyone else in the world.

Hannibal is the best of villains. Clarice Starling wasn’t worthy of him.

And that is the crux of the villain/hero conflict. To make a villain worthy of your villain. And, unfortunately, Clarice Starling wasn’t worthy of Hannibal—even though she got the bad guy in the end. Why? Because of her, Hannibal–an evil, brilliant,
maniacal, meticulous predator–escaped.

So I didn’t hate SILENCE OF THE LAMBS because honestly, it is the standard bearer
for all serial killer novels that followed. (And though it ticked me off, it's still a great movie in so many ways and I'm happy to watch it over and over again.) It is a classic. But RED DRAGON, the story that came before SILENCE, was, in my opinion, superior in every way to its sequel.

Perhaps I liked this book more because I read it before I saw the two film versions of
the book. Hands down, RED DRAGON was superior to MANHUNTER. IMO, though
MANHUNTER was fairly true to the book until the climax where they totally
deviated and cut off the movie before the end and I felt CHEATED, the movie was
also plodding; Will Graham’s conflict and introspection that worked fabulously
in the written story was slow and tedious as a verbal monologue; and the
villain was two-dimensional and hollow, the opposite of the depth of character
revealed in the book. RED DRAGON, though more violent on screen than its
predecessor, showed Will Graham’s conflict on screen rather than had him
verbally expound on it; the villain (played by Ralph Fiennes) showed the depth
of character as portrayed in the novel; and the ending was true to the book.

RED DRAGON is Will Graham’s story, the FBI Agent who caught Hannibal Lecter in the
first place. He almost died in the process. (And presumably, almost eaten.) But it's not about Will capturing Hannibal; it's about how will handles the aftermath of what happened, and how he can once again go after another sadistic killer. Will is tortured in so many ways, but he is truly one of the good guys. He has
many battles, including drinking, but he has so much empathy with the victims
that you, the reader, have empathy with the victims. You feel Will’s pain. If I
learned anything about storytelling from this book, it’s that how your
characters feel about their job, their duty, their honor, and the very real
conflicts that arise from such is just as important as the current case they’re working. We don’t live in a vacuum; we are the sum of our past, of our emotion and experiences. True heroes are not fearless; they are not without conflict or pain; they make
mistakes and they worry about their decisions. True heroes are you and me who
overcome or fears and limitations to do the right thing.

And a villain, to be a strong character, must be worthy of the hero. Francis
Dolarhyde is a superior villain. He is worthy of Will Graham in the same way
that Hannibal Lecter is worthy of Will Graham. In fact, Hannibal Lecter in many
ways created the person Will is today (i.e. in RED DRAGON.)

Reading RED DRAGON taught me that the villain’s backstory is as important—if not more
important—than what the villain is doing in the present.

In Christopher Vogler's THE WRITERS JOURNEY, he said that the villain is the hero
of his own journey. As soon as I read that, so many things clicked for me. Any
story must be fully fleshed out to avoid stereotypes or caricature. As we go
into our hero's head, so must we go into our villain's head. We must understand
his GMC (goals, motivation and conflict) perhaps even more so than the hero and

A killer who kills for the sake of killing isn’t interesting on any level; there
should be a reason that the reader can buy into. The reason doesn’t have to be
justifiable for the reader in the sense that the reader, in the same
circumstances, would kill; but the reason must be justifiable for the
villain—that based on the personality and backstory of the killer, under the
circumstances yes, we understand why he/she is committing just evil and violent

A three-dimensional villain, even if he doesn't see much page time, will always
make a story stronger. The stronger the villain, the stronger the conflict and
more important, the better your hero and heroine. Who cares if your hero
defeats some weak criminal? Your story villain should be equal to or stronger
than your hero. So that when the hero wins, we feel as if we’ve just been to
the pit of Hell and back.

Now you might think I’m contradicting myself (and I’m not surprised!) because I
earlier said that Clarice Starling wasn’t worthy of Hannibal. Hannibal was
certainly the stronger character, as it should be suspense. My problems had to
do with her thought processes. That she wasn’t scared when he escaped. That she
didn’t feel guilty of culpable in his escape. Giving him a reward for giving
her information is fine: that doesn’t bother me. Her idiocy in not being scared
of him bothered me.

One thing Thomas Harris does particularly well in RED DRAGON is to get into the
characters heads—both the villain and the hero. We see the battle within both
of them as they move toward the finale. Will Graham is battling not only the
unknown killer (Dolarhyde) but the psychologically destructive Hannibal Lecter.
Hannibal will say or do anything to destroy Will—on the surface he claims to
admire him because Will figured it out—that Hannibal was guilty—and put him in
prison (a mental hospital.) But underneath he is furious that Will—someone he
considered inferior in every way—stopped him and took away his freedom. Which
is why he does what he does in the book. (I don’t want to give it away—I think
anyone who writes serial killer novels should read this book.) Hannibal both
helps Will reach his goal, and he sets up Will so that Hannibal might attain his goal: destroying the man who denied him freedom.

But RED DRAGON is not Hannibal’s story, and in fact Hannibal plays a small but
important catalyst role. It’s truly Will and Francis Dolayhyde’s story.
Dolarhyde is a tragic villain. While I have always understood the sympathetic
villain, this was the first time I understood how the past truly shapes the villain, and in many
ways, the villain is still living in the past. By killing “happy families”
taking special care with the mother—Dolarhyde is returning to his childhood and
the rejections he faced early on by his mother. Dolarhyde would have been just
another monster with a so-sad childhood if he hadn’t been made human by his
affection for a blind colleague. In that relationship, we see how he wants so
badly to be loved for who he is, not only identified by his physical handicap.
That gives him depth of character that few villains achieve in fiction.

And it’s something I constantly strive for.

A villain has specific goals. Murder is not the goal. Murder is the means to an
end. Very few villains kill simply to kill. It's the feeling the murder gives
them, or how they felt before, during, or after the crime that is A goal, but
it may not be the ONLY goal. That Dolarhyde breaks the mirrors in his victim’s
homes; that he kills the children quickly and without pain (or little pain) but
makes the mother’s suffer, is all significant. But what is his goal? Revenge
for how his mother treated him? No. His goal was more a manifestation, from a
physical monster into a beautiful creature; the more “beautiful” he became in
his mind (i.e. turning into the Red Dragon) the more of a monster he became in
real life. But his goal was ultimately to be reborn. (Though again, that’s just
my opinion, and there are other valid commentaries on this story.) And there's also the cruel dead grandmother, and a bit of PSYCHO in the story, but in an even more twisted (and fantastic) way. So we are left with the question that if Dolarhyde's beautiful mother didn't leave him because of his physical deformity (which is actually quite minor) with his cruel grandmother, and if his cruel grandmother didn't abuse him physically and emotionally, would he have turned into a psychopath and killed complete families? Or was that his destiny? The ultimate question I could argue on both sides: is a killer born or made? Nature or nurture?

In KILLING FEAR, my villain's goal is not to kill, but to feel. He has never had a
real human emotion–he can't. He was born without empathy or feelings. He
learns early on that he receives a physical adrenalin rush when he causes pain
to others–either emotional pain or physical pain. Over time this escalates. He
attempts to satisfy his need for adrenalin by becoming involved in extreme
sports–and for a time that works. But over time, even those challenges are
lacking. That he kills is incidental. Yes, he enjoys it but not for the killing
part. He needs to kill to receive that physical rush—the adrenalin which is a
FEELING–by watching the terrified faces of his victims. He lives vicariously
through the emotions of others. (An example of NATURE creating a killer.)

In SUDDEN DEATH, I ended up challenging myself and trying something beyond what I believed I was capable of. I have two villains. (I’m not giving anything away because by the end of the first chapter you know that there are two villains), but one of the
villains is insane. In my first draft, I didn’t get into his head because, to
be honest, I was scared to. I’d never gone into the head of a villain who
really was not truly there. I had no idea how to do it. But my editor felt that
if I wrote the scenes from his POV rather than his killing partner’s POV they
would be more powerful. So I read up on certain disorders and how someone
“snaps” and why, and how they function on a day-to-day basis. I realized as I
got into his head that he would have killed himself before he killed anyone
else. I had to deal with that knowledge—so his partner ultimately stops him
from killing himself, and that changed everything. I could feel his pain and
conflict, why he killed and what he thought he’d get out of it, and what he
really got out of it. It was a difficult exercise for me because I’d never done
it before with that deranged a character. Most of my killers were logical (in
their mind) and because of that, I could understand them. Ethan is not logical.
His partner, however, is. (An example of NURTURE–or rather, unusual circumstances in Ethan's adulthood–that turned him into a killer.)

Of course, you'll want to know exactly why your villain is committing this particular crime.
What happened in the past? Had his mother cheated on his father? His father on
his mother? Or maybe his ex-wife cheated on him. Was he sexually abused as a child? Physically? Emotionally? Many kids are tragically abused and never grow up to be serial killers or predators; what makes your villain snap? Why him and not others? Most serial killers (but not all) were subjected to abuse by one or both parents (or step-parents.) Most (but not all) serial killers display some sadistic tendencies as children or young teens (setting fires, killing small animals, etc.) Another obvious conflict with
villains is that most of them don't want to be caught. Most villains want to
remain free to continue their dastardly deeds. That is an internal
conflict–their need for killing is greater than their need for freedom, but
their need for freedom will make them cautious and provide valuable tools for
the author to make them smart. Dumb criminals are caught. Dumb criminals do not
make interesting, or worthy, villains.

The Hero's Journey is a valuable tool for your writer’s tool chest. If you remember that the villain is the hero of his OWN journey, your bad guy will
be richer–and scarier–for it. But it's not just the "bad guy"–it's
any antagonist in your story. WHY characters do things, even minor characters,
is important to know, so if you can identify where they are on their personal
journey, it'll help enrich your story. This isn't to say every character needs
a backstory on the page, but every character needs a backstory in your mind.

Remember, Joseph Campbell said that the Hero has a Thousand Faces; don't forget that the
villain has a thousand faces, too.

Take chances and put yourself in ALL your character's shoes. You'll be surprised at
how much richer your story will be.

Some articles about the hero's journey:

Extract from the Writers Journey

On Wikipedia:
Steps of the Journey

Villains People Love to Hate
By Lee Masterson

Villains from
the Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy
— Some great stuff even if
you're not writing fantasy.

And THE WRITERS JOURNEY by Vogler is still, IMO, the single best condensed explanation
for The Hero’s Journey and universal storytelling in general. Campbell is the master, but his books are also dense and detailed and I've never been able to get through all of them. Vogler boils it all down to the key elements. And frankly, I'm lazy. I like Vogler's conversational tone. I don't have to think too hard :) 

So, other than Hannibal Lecter, who’s your favorite novel or movie villain and why?

And guess what? I got extra ARCs for SUDDEN DEATH. This is huge for me, because I usually get five or six; I have over 25. I'd love to send one to a Murderati friend, so please comment and I'll randomly pick a winner.

31 thoughts on “The Villain’s Journey

  1. R.J. Mangahas

    Great post Allison. I think you bring up a very good point here. The villain and hero/ine need to be worthy of each other. As pointed out, a character who is evil just for the sake of it, is a weak character. The same could be said for a hero who has the “perfect” life (i.e good looks, lots of friends, a successful career, etc.).

    It’s really that balance that gives the reader a great story. (Now I have to go back and give a little more dimension to my villain. Certainly not cookie cutter variety, but could still use some fleshing out)

  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, great, Allison, I wake up this morning and see I have to defend Clarice Starling’s honor.

    Actually I understand the points you’re making about her but I’ve never felt that way about the character. She’s so YOUNG, first of all – I think we tend to forget how unformed a person in their early 20’s really is. And i think she gives Lecter personal information because she knows it’s the absolute only way to get his cooperation. She makes the right judgment call, there. I think she’s a wonderfully layered heroine because of her weaknesses.

    But that aside, this is a fantastic post on villains, perfect timing because I’m going through now with my villain and doing exactly what you’re suggesting – the villain’s own desire and arc, and it’s great to have such a solid and specific reminder, so thanks!

    Because villains operate offstage so much of the time, it’s easy to forget that they have to be every bit as committed to their own goals as the hero/ine.

    I love RED DRAGON and Dollarhyde as well – one of the scariest monsters ever created. I can go on and on about him, and frequently do in workshops.

    PS – anyone with as many progeny and books as you have has no reason to feel inadequate about anything, ever! Nice try, though. 😉

  3. Allison Brennan

    Hi Stephanie!

    R.J. you’re absolutely right–a perfect hero is as bad as a weak villain. In Romantic Suspense sometimes we have a harder time having an imperfect hero because our readers tend to have different expectations. But one of the challenges is to find those flaws, exploit them and make them integral to the story. As well as use their strengths against them. In SPEAK NO EVIL, the hero Gallatin County Sheriff Nick Thomas is a fish out of water in San Diego defending his brother who is suspected of a brutal murder. Nick is very loyal, almost to a fault. His sense of duty, honor and family is very strong and put to the greatest test: learning the truth about his brother, a war hero.

    Aw, Alex, I understand where you’re coming from with Clarice. She’s probably between 23 and 25, at Quantico, not even a full agent yet. (Okay, so that’s another problem I have with the story–what was Jack Crawford thinking sending her to Hannibal?) In fact, when I write Lucy Kincaid’s series, one story will take place while she’s a student at Quantico. Maybe my ideas on how to make Clarice work for me 🙂

    I need to take your workshop sometime Alex! I love Dolarhyde. I find him far more compelling and believable a villain than Buffalo Bill, who was just creepy and not all there. But Harris was brilliant on so many different levels and truly upped the standard.

    BTW, one of my all-time favorite authors isn’t writing fiction anymore. Dr. Keith Ablow wrote 6 or 8 thrillers with a forensic psychiatrist (very flawed Frank Clevenger) and some of the best stories and villains I’ve ever read. I miss his work (I have read 6 of his books, but I had a feeling I missed one or two.) He started in first/third and then switched to third. If anyone wants to try him, read PSYCHOPATH. It’s not the first, but it was my first and formed so much of my mindset when I get into my killer’s head.

    (And yes Alex, compared to your logical, clear posts, mine come out as stream-of-consciousness . . . probably not surprising considering how my mind works.)

  4. joylene

    Red Dragon was a great read. I read it long before Mr. Thomas wrote TSOTL. In fact, I picked it up because I’d just finished Black Sunday and wanted more of Mr. T. I went on to watch the movie Manhunter with a young Will Peterson. A classic.

    I also agree that Starling acted immature, but I suspect that’s why she was depicted as a student and not an actual agent. Her attitude at the end could be chalked up to ego. She’s the star period turned huntress. Maybe she was feeling a little cocky after Hannibal escaped.

    While I truly appreciated Red Dragon and Thomas’s creation of Hannibal, I was disappointed with Hannibal for many of the reasons that many reviewers have already recorded. It felt as if he was being pressured into creating another book and so rushed to complete it. I couldn’t finish the book. And the movie, once was enough.

    My other favourite villain was Douglas Jeffers in The Traveler by John Katzenbach, 1987. He kidnaps a journalist student and takes her on a trip across the country so she can document his grisly murders. The cop after him is fighting her own demons. I appreciated Jeffers guest to be famous and depicted as the best in his field. He seemed an accumalation of the serial killers of the day, but the story was riveting and the plot had lots of twists.

    Great article, Allison.

  5. Mary-Frances Makichen

    Allison,Something you said at a conference once really stuck with me and it changed the way I thought about villains. You mention it again here today–the villain is the hero of his own journey. This really helped me expand my thinking when it comes to the bad guy. Excellent post!

  6. Catherine Chant

    Great post, Allison! I’ve always loved how the villains in your books are so three dimensional. I, too, feel cheated when I get to the end of a book or movie and don’t feel like I understood the “why” behind the villain. That’s the downfall of too many “horror” films.


  7. Louise Ure

    My favorite villains? Probably Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood and Heath Ledger as The Dark Knight’s Joker. And for the same reasons that I loved the Anthony Hopkins’ depiction: they were over the top, unforgettable performances that have colored the way I will forever look at those characters.

  8. Zoë Sharp

    I’ll second Louise’s pick of Alan Rickman, but for his turn as Hans Gruber in ‘Die Hard’.

    And for me the best example of the villain being the hero of his own story is Robert De Niro as bank robber Neil McCauley in ‘Heat’.

    Who wasn’t rooting for him to get away from Al Pacino’s good-guy cop at the end?

    Hang on a moment, does that make McCauley the villain or the (anti)hero …?

  9. pari

    Allison,I’m not particularly fond of blogging after you or Toni 😉

    Great points about the villain/antagonist. Thank you.

    Based on your recommendations a few months ago, I’ve been watching the first season of Veronica Mars with my children. There are some fascinating “villains” in that series. Logan stands out as one whose story — once we see his home life — really, really makes painful and conflicted sense.

  10. J.D. Rhoades

    Hey y’all, i used to have to follow Bruen. You think THAT Was easy?

    Allan Rickman does great villains, to be sure. And I’ll second the vote for Hans over the Sheriff. Rickman was clearly playing the Sheriff for laughs…he was the only one who seemed to be having any fun in that wretched movie.

    Heath Ledger’s Joker was truly chilling because of Ledger’s performance, but in the end, I found him unsatisfying as a villain because you never really did get a handle on why he was the way he was. He kept changing the story he told his victims, and all we’re left with was Alfred’s observation that “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Okay, scary enough, but why?

    Best literary villain? Satan from Paradise Lost. I mean, come on…he upstages God.

  11. pam claughton


    Great post. One of the things I always look for in a crime book is a reason why the villain is who he or she is. So often it’s not there and the story is less for it. Hannibal Lechter is a fascinating villain, a scene-stealer.

    This year, the closest to that for me was Jimmy Smits character Miquel in Dexter, which is one of the best written shows on TV.

  12. Renee Pellegrino

    I often think about Darth Vader and his villian journey and a little what if.What if we saw Anakin Skywalker as a boy first, would we understand a little better.

    In the first three Star Wars movies, we only saw the dark machine –we did not see him as human but in the prequel the venture into discovery what made him so evil was quite simple–he was framed.

    Even Voldemort in Harry Potter–soon enough we will meet the Half Blood Prince–Voldemort wasn’t love, he was adopted and by which brought him to hate.

    After this next movie, do you think we will understand what motived the wizard who must not be named.

  13. Lynn Romaine

    HI ALLISON – excellent exploration of character of villain, as usual from you. I want to be able to cry for the villain as well as the hero/heroine, so it’s great to consider what’s worthy. Being human is what connects us through our stories and it’s great to look at characcter.Lynn romaine

  14. Cornelia Read

    This is cheesy, but I kind of like my own first villain. I based him on a guy I used to be totally in love with, at least his looks, who’d died of AIDS. I felt a little guilty about that, since as far as I knew he wasn’t a serial killer or anything. Then when the book came out I told a childhood friend of his that I’d made my villain look like this guy, and he said, “that’s interesting. You say he was a really nice guy, but in fact he had unprotected sex with probably a hundred women after he was diagnosed, because he was so pissed off he was going to die.” So, weird. I guess he actually was a serial killer.

  15. Allison Brennan

    I’m posting and running . . . deadline you know . . . but I had to say that I LOVE Alan Rickman as a villain in ANYTHING he does. He’s a brilliant actor and gives depth to his characters. And Louise, Heath Ledger was incredible. Truly a tragic loss to art and entertainment that he’s gone.

    More responses later . . . but work first, play later, right?

  16. Donnell

    Allison, Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs are on my keeper shelf. I so agree Red Dragon is the more superior of the two books, perhaps it’s because the author had more time? But in defense of Clarice Starling and TSTL. Isn’t this a naive trait of women to believe she above most women and the other victims. In an odd sort of way, she’s like the wife who believes the husband will never cheat on her. Clarice felt a bond with Hannibal, an icky bond true, but she felt she had connected with him hence her… he won’t hurt me.

    If you haven’t read Lawrence Sanders in the First Deadly Sin, Second Deadly Sin, Third Deadly Sin, Fourth Deadly Sin, I recommend you do so. Talk about Killer POV and the 1st and the 3rd are my favorite. Hint… the Third is about a female serial killer. Unforgettable. Great post, Allison. You are an awesome teacher both craftwise and industry. Thank you!

  17. Catherine

    Allison, my favourite villian of the moment is Gretchen Lowell, in Chelsea Cain’s ‘Heartsick’ and ‘Sweetheart’.

    There is something in this character and stories, that really rings true to me. Her manipulations, her use of every part of her own pysche, and understanding of Archie (the flawed hero)to just do all that she does, just as she wills it …love it.

  18. Catherine

    After walking away I think I should post a disclaimer.

    The above comment in no way is indicative of major plot points throughout either story…that’s just my interpretation of how prevasise and powerful I see this particular villain.

    Quite frankly, if you came across someone like that in real life and somehow sensed the sickness within, you’d back away asap, while trying to not draw any attention what so ever.

  19. Karen Rose

    Allison – Great article and thank you! You’re right – it is scary to get in a truly evil (or insane) villain’s head. I guess if they don’t scare me, they won’t scare readers, but letting my mind go and “thinking like them” is a different kind of scary. It requires a mental and emotional intimacy with evil that is often uncomfortable (and not to overuse the word, dang scary).

    Your point on the heroine being worthy of the villain is also spot on. To suck me in as a reader, I have to believe the villain might actually win and wonder what the hero and heroine will have to learn, or sacrifice, to beat him. The TSTL characters cheapen that experience for me.

    Fabulous article!!

  20. Gayle Carline

    I’ve spent the weekend at Alex’s blog, talking about what I like in a villain. Hannibal, Alan Rickman, they’re all great, but give me a good sociopathic female (or a child) and I’m a happy puppy. I like the way they are unrecognizably dangerous. Cute and cuddly, but don’t turn your back on them. Milady in the Three Musketeers, the Marquise (?) in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, these are strong lovely women who would slice you up and serve you on toast, and NO ONE WOULD SUSPECT A THING. Rhoda of The Bad Seed is a high camp example of a child, altho I kind of prefer her to the latest breed of kiddie sociopaths making the rounds of TV. They’re a little too solemn, don’t suck up to the adults enough.

    Check out the movie HARRIET CRAIG – Joan Crawford doesn’t kill anyone, but you just know she would if she had to. Great character study of a deeply disturbed woman.

  21. Allison Brennan

    Hi Joylene! Great comments. I haven’t read HANNIBAL and I don’t plan to. I heard about the plot and it would really ruin the world he created.

    Hi Mary-Frances: I wish I could take credit for the villain comment, but it’s Vogler. I just repeat it often, and when I’m stuck I remember it and picture where on the journey my villain is. What’s at stake (and it’s not always being caught.) For my killer in SUDDEN DEATH this was particularly important for me to understand because it took me until the end of the first draft to understand WHY he started killing in the first place. There had to be a trigger, something other than the trauma he endured. But what he REALLY wanted was to be healed. He wanted to go back to the way everything was before. Once I realized that, it clicked.

    Hi Cathy–exactly! If at the end we go, blah, the villain was boring, then it ruins the movie/book. I need to believe that under those circumstances and with those conditions, that person could and would become a killer and kill in the way he choses.

  22. Allison Brennan

    Zoe, you got me about anti-heroes. I had to turn to Vogler, and his definition makes complete sense:

    “Anti-hero is a slippery term that can cause a lot of confusion. Simply stated, an Anti-hero is not the opposite of a Hero, but a specialized kind of Hero, one who may be an outlaw or a villain from the point of view of society, but with whom the audience is basically in sympathy. We identify with these outsiders because we have all felt like outsiders at one time or another.”

    He goes on with more detail about different types of anti-heroes, some who are cynical like Bogart in Casablanca or tragic like Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest. I don’t know that I would put her as an anti-hero, but she also wasn’t a villain, either. Now, I need to see HEAT so I can think more about this!

    Hi Nina, thanks!

    Pari, I’m so glad you’re watching it! I hope you’re enjoying it. I absolutely love Logan. My daughters both love him, too. He’s a tragic character in many ways, and with his baby face you just want to hug him and tell him everything is going to be okay. He really shines in season two. I would consider him an Anti-hero (wow, I learned something just five minutes ago and was able to apply it! Amazing!

  23. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Brennan,An excellent post, and very informative. I don’t think you should feel inferior to Alex’s posts at all. I learned just as much from yours here as I always do from hers.

    Mr. Rhoades,I like where you’re thinking, but I’ll always be blindly partial to Iago as the greatest villain of classic literature.

    Ms. Ure,Yeah, if you grew up on the old school comics, instead of the campy bullshit from Adam West’s series, Ledger nailed the original idea of the joker. The problem for a lot of people is that as a standalone storyline, the movie couldn’t possibly go into enough background detail on the Joker’s character to do him justice, so I think for some casual fans he comes up lacking. I loved it though!

    One of the villains that scared me as a kid was the ghost of the old man in Christine. You despise Arnie Cunningham when he’s not in the car, then see how terrified he is inside the car when you realise it’s the previous owner possessing him when he leaves it. I used to imagine that ghost haunting my room, and spent several nights sleeping with the lights on, I can tell you.

  24. Thorne

    I know I am quite a bit late on this topic… sorry about that but I really enjoyed this article.

    Patricia Cornwell has many critics (readers and other writers alike) but at the same time she deserves much praise. But that’s not the point, most of her novels never really focused on the killer or the killer’s backstory at all. But my favorite Cornwell novel ‘From Potter’s Field’ features TEMPLE GAULT – one of the lessor known but scarier villains in fiction. Temple Gault has a troubled past and actually epitomises evil… with a few of Cornwell’s novels Gault made an appearence and through his actions and backstory he became one of the most compelling villains I have ever come across.

    Another of Cornwell’s novels – Blowfly features the ‘Wolfman’, his brother, and his brother’s lover. WOW! Although Blowfly is not considered as good as many other Patricia Cornwell books, I believe if you go into that book with an open mind you will be able to appreciate it for what it is – a well crafted and sculpted crime novel, with strong characters and 3 DIMENSIONAL villains. The ending was a bit of a let down, but please… try the book and discover these dark villains.

    One thing Ms.Cornwell does very well is the female villain that is drawn into the games of a powerful and controlling male villain. At the end of the day the female villain becomes more bloodthirsty and willing to commit crimes for ‘love’, that is very scary and it paints a good picture of many real life women who were trapped in a game of murder by a man.

    Thanks for the great blog again. And one side note: I really believe that Murderati (and other blogs) has been successful in getting readers connected to new authors. In the past few months of enjoying this blog I have bought the Prison Break Trilogy by you, and have been making notes of all the other authors I have enjoyed reading on this blog. As I come from South Africa, not all authors are available because they are not published in either my country or Britain.

    Keep on with the great blogs, as this project and other blogs( have lead me to enjoy both Allison and Tess… and look out for all the other authors featured on this site… 😉

  25. Allison Brennan

    JT, thanks for the vote of confidence on the article, but it’s nothing that isn’t out there in one form or another . . . I just put my own rambling spin on it 🙂 . . . and if you haven’t read Vogler, WHY NOT????

    Danke, MJ . . .

    Jake, it’s easy to feel inferior to Alex . . .she’s very wise, but more than that, she knows her stuff. She’s the master to my padawan . . .

    Hi Thorne! Thank you for the kind words. I discovered Tess through my mom, who has introduced me to some of my very favorite authors. So my mom gave me THE APPRENTICE and said I would like it, so I read it, loved it, and bought Tess’s backlist. I’ve read everything since.


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