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When The Bad Guy Isn’t So Bad…

Sunday, July 6, 2008
Posted in: random musings

You know what I hate? When an author tells you that her ‘baddie’ is an evil bastard, but doesn’t show you why and how he’s evil. You’re just supposed to take her word for it.

What’s that about?


  • Don’t look at me – in my WIP, when he finally appears, he tries to cut her tits off.


  • The Profane Angel
    July 6
    1:21 pm

    Perhaps because the author thinks the reader will read all these “evil” thoughts/actions and suspect same lurks in the writer’s heart? (Ask Stephen King about the nastygrams he got when one of his characters beat a dog to death) Or, as Carole Lombard once said, “My only problem with doing love scenes is imagining the audience thinking this is what I look like when I’m going at it with Gable.” Personally, I like bad guys, they’re more interesting than the well mannered hero – I always think Leslie Howard when one of the good guys shows up and acts the gentleman hero. I guess women are too reticent to really get into random acts of badness, we’ve been socialized to make nice, and there’s a serious case of underestimation on both sides – the writer underestimates the ability of the reader to separate character from author, and the reader underestimates the imaginative power of the author. Just my nickel’s worth. TPA


  • Personally, I think it’s the reverse side of that coin wherein the heroine is soooooooooooooooooooooooo smart, but acts TSTL.

    All that telling, not even a bit of showing.


  • I’m not sure if this is the sort of villain you’re thinking of or not, but sometimes the villain in one book becomes the hero in the sequel. I suppose in those cases his villainy might be played down a bit or the readers of the first book won’t want to read about him when he stars in his own romance.


  • My baddies are bad. They have masturbatory fantasies about drawing and quartering the hero. They shoot the hero’s secretary for no reason. They set the hero and heroine into a gunfight against each other.

    I hate the “Oh he’s bad. Bad, bad, bad.” where hearing this is all that happens. Show me he’s bad. At least let him eat live kittens for dinner (as one of mine does).

    Then again, my protagonists tend to be of dubious morality as well. Chickenhawks. Stone-cold killers. Gunslingers trying to hang it up. A painter who falls in love with the Devil, with his eyes open.

    But if your villain is a better person than most of my heroes, you don’t have a villain. You have a nice guy you just don’t like much.


  • sam
    July 6
    3:35 pm

    I was just thinking about this yesterday.
    And it can be done so easily – like in the opening scenes of Farscape:
    Girl: “There were casualties, at least three people died!”
    Captain: “I don’t care about the casualties. That ship is getting away! We go after them. No one gets away on my watch.”

    The captain’s first words – and already we know he’s a shit. We couldn’t tell by looking at him, but his words placed him firmly on the ‘I’m evil’ side. (Of course, then he has to go on and emphasize his evilness by doing evil things.) But you’re dead on when you say that some villains are described as such, but no actions or dialogue back up the claim.


  • I’m becoming less of a purist and starting to prefer multifaceted bad guys and good guys. But I agree: showing is everything. Can’t imagine thrusting a villain into a story without having him or her behavior villainously. For the writer as well as the reader, the fun is in the details.


  • I never refer to my bad guys as being one, and I don’t like people already labeling them for me ahead of time. I prefer to let their actions speak for themselves. (I also like to describe them in such a way so that readers go, “Ewww!”) LOL!


  • I’m wondering where the editor might be because if I try that, my editors kick my ass, lol.


  • Maybe some authors don’t realize not every antagonist has to be a “bad guy”. So even when the antag isn’t technically bad, they feel this irresistible urge to say he is. Over and over.

    Iā€™m wondering where the editor might be because if I try that, my editors kick my ass, lol.

    Not all editors are equal, that’s for damn sure.


  • Miki S
    July 7
    3:30 am

    I suspect for a lot of authors, they’re trying to avoid reader backlash. I’m vaguely remembering a blog post where many readers complained about “gratuitous violence” in books. “I can’t read books where kids die.” “I can’t read books where animals are killed.” And so on. (I think it was a debate about putting “warnings” on books – like the rating system for movies).

    On the other hand, I think about Shannon McKenna’s books – where the bad guys are over-the-top bad. They become caricatures instead of (just?) evil people.

    I was reading a romantic suspense book last week where every time the bad guy was “on screen”, the author “showed” how bad he was by having him think about forcing himself on the heroine (yes, bad) and stroking himself while having those thoughts (well, hmm, typical). And I couldn’t help but think – something like 99% of men masturbate! Am I supposed to think he’s bad because he’s jacking off?! C’mon.

    The reading community is incredibly diverse. You’ve got people who get angry when a character kicks a puppy. Then you’ve got people who want multi-faceted bad guys (and good guys) and to see the lines between black and white to blur. I think it can be hard – without being over-the-top – to finding actions that convince ALL readers that a bad guy is really “bad”.


  • LOL, not only are my bad guys bad, my good guys are usually bad, too! šŸ™‚


  • You write some awesome erotic romance, Ms. Quinn!


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