I love bad boys. Not the leather-wearing, chain-smoking kind of bad guys, but rather true villains. I think they deserve a little reader love. They bring much-needed tension to a story, and they're fascinating characters. But it's more than that. They bring stories to life in a way a hunky hero or sassy heroine never could. Their nefarious deeds and unpredictable actions make for great reading, but I want to know why they do what they do.
As a writer, I want to crawl into their heads. It's not always a comfortable place to be, but everyone--and I mean everyone--has a story. It gives us an idea of what motivates them, or what made them nasty in the first place. And every character's story shapes the story you find in the pages of your favorite book, for better or worse. I feel sympathy for some of the villains in my favorite stories. I don't excuse their terrible behavior, but without it, the story wouldn't necessarily have resonated with me.
Take Stryker from Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series. The guy has done some heinous things. But when you read his story, you can't help but soften toward him (at least I did). Ms. Kenyon always does a masterful job balancing the good and evil in a character. Stryker chooses to go the evil route more often than not, but his intentions are validated through his story.
Or what about V'Lane from Karen Marie Moning's Fever series? I can't totally hate him, and not because he's gorgeous (in case you haven't read the series, I won't give away any spoilers).
Then you have a character like Voldemort. It's hard to drum up any sympathy for someone who orchestrated so many terrible acts of evil. Yet without him, Harry Potter would have gone nowhere. His potential may have been unrealized. Dumbledore would have died an inglorious death, and we would have never known Snape--who was almost easier to hate--was a good guy all along.
I don't believe any character, real or imagined, is 100% good or evil. Granted, we don't all have homicidal tendencies. But I call BS on the people who claim to have the best of intentions all day, every day. We're flawed. Villains are more flawed, sometimes terribly so. Those flaws are what give our heroes and heroines an opportunity to grow. Not unlike the nasty characters we encounter in our everyday lives.
Villains play an important role in fiction. They're an essential half of the all-important good vs. evil equation. They give us a reason to root for the good guy. When they're defeated, they give us hope that maybe, just maybe, we can defeat the negativity in our own lives. For that reason alone, I have to give them credit. I'll always root for the good guy, but a small part of me will do the same for the bad guy. Because hey, that's what makes for a great book. ;-)
Who's your favorite villain?