E. F. Watkins is my next guest for the 2012 Fall Into Winter Darkness Book Blast. She’s here to talk about one of the darkest parts of a story — villains. Welcome, E.F.!

E.F. Watkins is giving away a free download of One Blood

What makes a “good” bad guy? by E.F. Watkins

More than any other type of fiction, the success of a “dark” story hinges upon the villain. What would The Silence of the Lambs by without Hannibal Lecter? What would Rebecca be without Mrs. Danvers (and, of course, the unseen title character)? What would Dracula be without-? Well, you get the idea.

In a good thriller or horror story, the villain keeps us not only frightened but intrigued, so we eagerly turn the pages. He or she may be even more compelling that the hero. But it’s not enough to write the 21st-century equivalent of Snidely Whiplash, twirling his moustache and cackling in delight over his evil deeds. Readers today look for something more complex in their bad guys.

A memorable villain today should have these key traits:

  • Advantages over the good guy. If your villainis younger and stronger (or older and more experienced), wealthier, and/or has special skills your hero/heroine lacks — such as military training or supernatural powers — he’ll seem unbeatable. Of course, he’s got to have a weakness, too, but it should take your hero a while to discover it.
  • Three-dimensional. If he’s evil 24/7, towards everyone and everything, he becomes predictable, boring…and frankly, unrealistic. Dracula in the novel is intelligent, with diabolical charm; Mrs. Danvers runs Manderley well and remains loyal to her late mistress; Michael Corleone was a war hero before taking up the “family business.”
  • Bizarre or extreme. On the other hand, a scary villain goes further in his evil than anyone else. Dracula became an immortal vampire—of his own doing? (Check the book.)  Lecter is a cannibal. Michael Corleone killed a cop and wiped out the leaders of five crime families in one day! This makes them…
  • Unpredictable. Because he’s controlled sometimes, extreme at other times, you’re never sure what to expect. The psychopathic killer who might spare someone under certain circumstances keeps you guessing. Will he suddenly change his mind?
  • Not 100% self-centered. If he cares for even one thing beyond himself, it humanizes him. Plot twist — if he loses that thing, he can go berserk! The “Tooth Fairy” serial killer in Red Dragon falls in love with a blind woman, but when he thinks she’s cheating on him, all hell breaks loose! This also gives you the option of evolving a bad guy into a good guy, as I did in my novels One Blood and Dance with the Dragon.

The villains in my books embody the kind of folks I despise I real life, bullies who feel superior to everyone else. If you’ve ever listened to a truly vicious criminal trying to justify his actions, most have that kind of arrogance. But I try to keep my bad guys surprising in a few ways. Most are physically attractive, and in a couple of cases unusually handsome or beautiful—I think this plays against our human expectations that evil and “ugly” go together. Also, an attractive, well-dressed and well-spoken person can manipulate others much more easily than a crude, offensive slob! (Remember Ted Bundy?) My villains also tend to be highly intelligent and self-controlled, only losing their tempers when pushed to extremes. Isn’t that scarier than someone who blusters all the time? The people who have truly scared me in real life were the ones who wielded such power that they never needed to raise their voices to make people quake in their shoes. (Think Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada.)

I think a “good” bad guy appeals to both the writer and the reader for several reasons. First it’s fun to be scared, harmlessly. The villain also can express our own dark side. By identifying with him, we can break the rules, do things we wouldn’t dare to in real life, and get away with it…for a while.

On the other hand, though, the bad guy also becomes a stand-in for people in real life who have treated us badly. That’s why, no matter how fascinating he may be, we really do want to see him punished in the end!

More About One Blood

Disgusted with his long, bloodthirsty existence, Jon Sharpay discovers a fresh challenge—the last living descendent of the arch-enemy who nearly destroyed him a century ago. He travels from New York City to Princeton to hunt down Kat Van Braam, a curator at the university’s art museum. But Sharpay also is being hunted, by two men—one determined to avenge the death of his pregnant young wife, the other a foreign agent out to recruit Sharpay’s paranormal skills for an international crime organization.

When Sharpay meets the brilliant and beautiful Kat, his plans for her expand beyond mere revenge. Kat also is drawn to “Dr. Sharpay,” the mysterious Eastern European scholar… until she learns his true nature and identity. Then she fights his enslavement of her will and vows to succeed where her ancestor failed—to keep this creature from ever harming anyone else. But will she be undone by her own “sympathy for the Devil”?

E. F. Watkins
Photo by Eugene Parciasepe, Jr.

E. F. Watkins specializes in paranormal suspense, and since 2003 has published six novels with Amber Quill Press LLC. Her first, DANCE WITH THE DRAGON, received a 2004 EPPIE Award from the national organization EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) as Best Horror Novel. Next came the romantic mystery RIDE A DANCING HORSE (as “Eileen Watkins”). Her third book, BLACK FLOWERS, was a Finalist in the Thriller category for both the 2006 EPPIEs and the 2007 Indie Excellence Book Awards. She also has published the paranormal thrillers PARAGON and DANU’S CHILDREN. Her latest, ONE BLOOD, is a prequel to DANCE WITH THE DRAGON and was a Finalist in the Paranormal category for the 2012 EPIC eBook awards. E.F. Watkins lives in northern New Jersey. Her personal website is http://www.efwatkins.com/ and her books also can purchased through Amber Quill Press.

Tell us which bad guy is your favorite, or least favorite, and why in the comments for a chance to win a free download of One Blood. Thank you, Eileen, for guest blogging today. Hope everyone is having a great weekend!