This month's Round Robin Blog Hop asks the question - Do you have any charming, likable villains?
Every once in a while we come upon a villain who is portrayed as charming, likeable, and relatable. As an author we are often reminded that our villains need to have some saving attributes because no one is all bad. An example often being a Mafia hit man who kills without turning hair, yet has a soft spot for his mom. Maybe you’ve run into a totally irascible old man, who is mean to his wife and yells at the kids in the neighborhood, but who can’t bear to see an animal hurt. But what about the villain who really does capture your sympathy?
Kill List by Brian Shea has just such a character. The hero is FBI Special Agent Nick Lawrence just transferred to the bank robbery unit. The villain is Declan Enright – he’s the bank robber. But he’s also a former police officer, recently fired over a controversial shooting, and he has reached his breaking point. Confronted with insurmountable financial burdens in the wake of his early termination, Declan is desperate for a way to provide for his wife and three daughters. Tapping into an elite skill set forged during his time as a Navy special warfare operator, and using the insider knowledge of a former police officer, Declan crosses the threshold and commits the perfect crime.
When you are in Declan’s point of view, you feel his desperation and the hurt of what has happened to him. You watch him case the joint and plan his heist and you are rooting for him. You are as desperate as he is that he will succeed. But then Nick is assigned to the case, and begins closing in. I won’t tell you how it ends because you really need to read the book, but when a series of terrorist attacks rattles the nation, these two men end up on the same side just as desperate to prevent the next attack. Two engaging characters, both working to stop an unthinkable evil and the entire time you are wondering how the heck is Declan going to get out of going to jail when it’s over?
Years ago I read Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Technically a novel because he put thoughts into the character’s heads and words into their mouths, but it is history, too. A thoroughly researched telling of the four days of the Battle of Gettysburg. But what Shaara has done is tell the story from both sides. What few of us think about is that the men who led from both sides were just a few short years before in the same army. They had attended West Point together. They were friends and fellow soldiers. But the Civil war divided their loyalties and Shaara fills us with that anguish that came. It depends on who’s side you’re on in that war which man is the villain. Lewis Armistead and Winfield Scott Hancock were the best of friends and here at Gettysburg, Armistead’s prayer was that he would not have to face Hancock on the field of battle. And it was Hancock who awaited him at the top of Cemetery Hill at the end of the ill-fated Pickett’s Charge. And it was Hancock that cradled Armistead in his arms as his friend’s life ebbed away. Joshua Reynolds had recently fallen in love and wore his sweetheart’s ring on a chain under his uniform. Robert E. Lee ached at the need to fight against men he’d once fought with, torn between old loyalties and his fealty to his home state of Virginia. J.E.B. Stuart was a laughing banjo player and an excellent scout. His reports had never failed Lee, until now. So, who is the villain and who the hero? But Shaara makes you care about them all and it’s hard to read this book without feeling the anguish they all felt.
In my own writing, I have one “villain” who turns out to be pretty darn charming. In Keeping His Promise, my heroine, Kate, a journalist, wants nothing to do with a prominent politician’s plan to turn an abandoned plantation into a second chance house for young men who have gotten into trouble with the law, and Kate’s doing everything she can to make sure it never happens. She is prepared to dislike everything about the man the politician wants to introduce her to, a man being considered to run this second chance house.
Imagine her reaction to find he is a soft-spoken, educated, gentleman. And just when she’s ready to be charmed, he reveals his past: that of a soldier wounded and hooked on drugs, turning to crime to secure them when money ran out, and who ended up doing time for his crimes. Ah-ha! Exactly the sort of charming scoundrel she doesn’t want housed in her quiet town. But Lucas Trevlyn’s story is more compelling than Kate can easily dismiss. While he was in prison his father passed away and when he got out, there was nowhere for him to go. The one man he’d depended on was gone. His home was gone. His livelihood as well because his education was in law enforcement was useless with a criminal record. And then came the day when he stood on the wrong side of the railing on a bridge over a highway, ready to end the mess he’d made of his life. And he would have gone through with it, had it not been for Sam Montgomery, an off-duty cop who spied him getting ready to jump. Sam talked him off the ledge and gave him a second chance. Now Lucas has a degree in counseling and he’s been working with young men, helping them to turn their lives around, and he wants very much to help them find their second chance. What is Kate to do now?
I think it’s easy for a reader when the villain is not very likeable. But give him a human face, a human failing or a wound, a reason for what he or she does, and it’s harder for the reader to dislike him and cheer for his downfall. Just as it would be hard for a die-hard Dixie fan to hate a man who wears his sweetheart’s ring or a soldier who holds his friend, the enemy in his arms as he dies, it’s hard for the reader to not to care about the villain with a heart, or a charm or a failing that they can relate to. Just as I did when reading Kill List, knowing that Nick was onto Declan and that something had to happen to reconcile their opposing goals. Just as I did when I created Lucas, and meant him to be a thug that Kate would easily dismiss, but suddenly this character was telling me his life story and I was compelled to change the plot.
Hop on over and check out how other authors have portrayed villains with charm.
Dr. Bob Rich
Rhobin L Courtright