The Most Dastardly Villain of All

Sometimes it seems as if most books and movies today are glorified comic books, epic battles between the good and the impossibly evil. Conflicts in which there are no shades of gray must be satisfying for many people, since such books sell by the millions, but I like a little more subtlety in my conflicts, a little more reality.

In a world that seems to be run by the major corporations, the stories where a lone hero takes on a megalithic corporation, brings down the owner of the company, and saves the world just are not plausible. Though I’m sure the presidents of the major corporations think they are indispensable, they are not. If they are eliminated, there will always be others to take their place, and the corporations will go on doing whatever it is that they do.

Because I know this and cannot escape it even in a world of my own creation, the conflicts in my books tend to be less clearly defined than good versus evil. Of course I have heroes and villains, but the villains are not always dastardly ones, though my other characters may perceive them as such. The villains are the heroes of their own story, and though a corporation is often the villains’ vehicle, my heroes don’t bring it down.

I like my heroes to find a romantic partner, but I prefer that partner to be a co-protagonist. It seems to dissipate the energy of the story if the male and female leads are always in conflict. I find it more satisfying when they bond together in their struggle against fate (or against another character as the personification of fate). To me, the biggest villain around is fate. What is more unfair, more murderous, more disastrous, more villainous than fate?

Because of fate, people get sick, die, have accidents, lose the one they love, lose their homes, freeze in winter, swelter in summer, get slammed by hurricanes or tornadoes, get washed away in tsunamis. No human villain can compete with such destruction.

My heroes never bring on their fate for the simple reason that I cannot sympathize with characters who are the cause of their own problems, and why would characters ever have to cause problems for themselves when life itself is always ready to cause problems for them? This is especially true in my poor stalled work in progress. Everywhere my hero turns, fate throws another fit and leaves him to deal with the mess. Sounds like real life, doesn’t it? We make plans, but life doesn’t consider our plans before deciding our fate.

My heroes are always slow to meet their fate. To begin with, they are usually laid back types, but during the course of the book, they are forced into action and then become dedicated to their mission.

Fate, of course, has other plans, and so conflicts escalate throughout my books, just as they do in life. When fate comes knocking on the door, everything changes. And that’s when a real story, not a comic book, begins.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

2 Responses to “The Most Dastardly Villain of All”

  1. ROD MARSDEN Says:

    I too don’t go for straight good versus evil in my novels or for that matter even in my short stories. Straight good versus evil is dull though it is for some reassuring in a world way too gray.

    I have only ever created a truly dastardly villain and she will be featured in Cold Water Conscience. Since we cannot be sure of her origins because she is an excellent liar, we cannot know how she came to be what she came to be. My ‘hero’ speculates that she was born without a conscience, without a soul.

    There have been people, both male and female, who have grown up without having fully integrated into society. In other words, they have never connected properly with another human being such as a parent in their formative years and so have never learned compassion. Some are intelligent enough to fake it. They can give all the signs of feelings in society and do it better than people who actually do feel. This sort of thing was touched upon in Poirot’s Last Case by Agatha Christie. What I am talking about are people with a talent for manipulating others but without a conscience. There are people in high positions in business like this. There are also law breakers.

    As for heroes being the cause of their own problems, sometimes you take chances in life with the wrong person because you have to take chances with someone. In this respect I do have sympathy for the hero because I have been there myself.

    If someone, especially a member of the opposite sex, shows all the signs of being on your wave length how are you not drawn in? My hero learns and doesn’t repeat mistakes. He does however pay for past naivety as do many of us. And, yes, I can have sympathy for him. Sometimes you really don’t know what you’ve walked into until you’ve walked into it.

    Even a laid back type of character can find themselves in a situation that moves quickly where they are expected to think fast or suffer the consequences for either no action or the wrong action. I’m working on such a situation right now. Just because your character is laid back doesn’t mean the rest of the world follows such a path.

    This is why emergency services people are so well trained. They have to act quickly in order to save lives and they have to act together or all may be lost. No need to panic and fly off in the wrong direction when you have been trained to do what needs to be done. Hence they can retain their calm approach when others are losing their cool. They can, in fact, bring others into line with their coolness and hopefully improve a bad situation.

    I agree that no human being can compete with the destructive force of nature but humans have the capacity to make a bad situation worse or better. There are looters and there are dedicated rescue teams.

    In the Granville railway disaster of the 1970s (near Sydney) both were there. I remember the newspapers making a fuss about this man. There was this photo of him looking exhausted on the side of the road. Apparently he’d been at it all day shifting rubble to help get trapped people to safety. No one knew his name and he’d simply walked away without a word to anyone once he’d done all that he could have done. He was one of the heroes. It was only weeks later the papers found out who he was.

  2. Stephen Leslie France Says:

    An enjoyable practice for improving depictions of the hero vs villain dynamic and heightening the realism, is to read or watch how this traditional binary opposite is portrayed in other mediums.

    More importantly, it’s fun to break from the regular authorial intention that entices you to side with the hero and analyse the situation from the villain’s perception; understand and empathize with why the obvious antagonist is behaving the way they are – It assists in harnessing ‘the grey’ between your own hero and villain and creating a relationship which is both credible and compelling.

    Although the basic hero vs villain plot sells, I think the world is moving to a place where complications and ‘grey’ between protagonist and antagonist will be even more intriguing as it will parallel what certain balanced media houses unveil to us today.

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