Ad Astra, day 2 (yes, still): What makes a great villain?


Panel: Ada Hoffmann, Matt Moore, Rob St. Martin, Thomas Gofton

AH: I write short stories and other things.

MM: Science fiction and horror writer.

RSM: Author of three horror, three urban fantasy, and five steampunk novels.

TG: Film producer, actor, and editor. Heroes are no fun to play.

RSM: Do villains drive the plot? What makes a great villain?

AH: The villain opposes the hero, but in some way, is secretly like the hero.

MM: A good villain is someone readers want to know more about.

RSM: The villain is the active force in the novel. The hero is reactive. Nobody thinks they are a villain. Villains are the heroes of their stories.

MM: Villains can be forces of nature, like Jaws or the T-Rex in Jurasic Park.

TG: It’s great when heroes have to dip into their inner darkness to defeat the villain. A great villain inspires fear. Mordred, for example.

RSM: The villain should instil fear in the reader. What will happen if the villain wins?

TG: Sometimes a villain never gets comeuppance. There was one character in The Messenger who was an absolute prick, but he gets off Scott-free.

MM: Think of great villains, like Hannibal Lector, or the Joker. They are completely foreign to the audience, fascinating. The universe is not necessarily just. It has no morality. It’s realistic.

TG: In terms of comics, the DC villains are cool while the heroes suck. In Marvel comics, it’s less black and white. Xerxes from 300 is a great villain, too.

Q: What traits do you choose?

MM: Look at some of your favourite villains, Beloque from Indiana Jones, or Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Pair your hero and villain, give them opposing character arcs. Everybody wants something. If the hero and villain want the same thing, but for different reasons, it gets interesting. Villains should be larger than life.

RSM: Hannibal is a monster, but he’s so charming. His relationship with Starling is what draws us in. Lestat was originally a villain, but he became the hero in later Anne Rice novels.

Q: What are your thoughts on moral greyness? For example, the monster as hero, the human as villain?

RSM: Look at King Kong, or Godzilla.

MM: After 9/11, everything became grey. Can the villain rehabilitate? Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons is a great example and a redemption story.

AH: Work out your novel’s morality.

MM: Alfred Bester from Babylon 5 was a fascinating character study. I’d like to point out that every human villain we’ve discussed so far has been a man. What about women villains?

A brief discussion ensued about the stereotypes of women villains, Disney’s wicked stepmothers and witches, which led into a discussion of some truly awesome women villains, but I must confess I became so engrossed by the discussion, I forgot to take notes (!) Now, a month later, I can’t remember what was said 😦

Mea culpa. I have c.r.a.f.t. disease: can’t remember an f-ing thing 😉 I’m too young for this shit.

If any of the panellists care to weigh in, please comment and fill in the gaps.

Other than that, if you, my dear readers, have some examples of absolutely fabulous, or terrifying, women villains, please share.

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