What Makes a Good Villain?

Vincent_D'Onofrio_as_Kingpin_in_DaredevilI read this article earlier this week about getting into a villain’s head, and it got me to thinking about writing villains and what makes a memorable one. Recently, I’ve seen two memorable villains, and I wanted to talk about what makes them great.

Both are from Netflix Marvel shows: Wilson Fisk from Daredevil and Kilgrave from Jessica Jones.

Although they are quite different characters, there are a few things in common between them, and it’s those commonalities which make them memorable.

1. Lots of screen time

The writers didn’t hesitate to give both villains lots of time on screen. Fisk even had most of an episode devoted to his back story, and it was brilliantly done, flipping between flashbacks and current day.

I think if you added up the minutes that Kilgrave probably had less screen time than Fisk, but by Kilgrave being a mind controller, his presence was felt even when he wasn’t on screen. Especially in the early episodes, you never knew when someone controlled by Kilgrave would pop up, and it made the tension so exhausting that I didn’t have the endurance to watch more than one episode at a time.

I’ve certainly seen effective villains who were shadowy presences most of the time, but I  think they made a good decision to devote so much time to these two.

2. Complete back story

By the end of the show, we knew so much about Fisk and Kilgrave and what made them tick. The writers managed to make both into sympathetic characters. It didn’t excuse their actions, but their past made them complete people who were more than just cardboard bad guys. We actually saw Fisk fall in love throughout the season and slowly fill in his lover on his background, leaving us to wonder, “Would she accept or reject him?”

24-kilgrave.w750.h560.2xAt one point in Jessica Jones, it looked for a brief time as if Kilgrave might redeem himself and reconcile with his parents, whose experiments had awakened his talents and made him psychic. That moment made his subsequent actions that much more horrifying.

3. Huge blinders to own actions

One of the most horrifying things about both Kilgrave and Fisk is that both truly believed they were on the side of right. Fisk loves Hell’s Kitchen and everything he did was in an attempt to make it a better place, or so he told himself. Kilgrave insisted that he never hurt anyone, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Lots of villains soliloquize about the rightness of their actions, and the audience reaction is usually “Yeah, right. Even you don’t believe that.” However, by making Kilgrave and Fisk such complicated humans, it’s almost, for a second, possible to agree with them. And as soon as you start down that path, you have to pull yourself back to reality and wonder what you were thinking.

So there’s a recipe for a great villain. Plenty of screen time. A fantastic back story to provide lots of motivation and a deep-seated belief in the rightness of what they are doing.

I’m certain I’ve yet to achieve that with any of my villains, but now I have something to aspire to.

Looking for books like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files? Here’s some.

Harry Dresdenbooks like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files was my introduction to the urban fantasy genre, and his books are still my favorites. However, Jim Butcher is only one guy, and unfortunately, he can only write so fast. Last I checked, we are still waiting for a release date for the next book. So, if you are also a fan, you may sometimes go hunting for books like Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. I’ve done that search, and here are my recommendations.

Although it’s more steampunk than urban fantasy, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Butcher’s new series, The Cinder Spires. The first book, The Aeronaut’s Windlass is available now, and I highly recommend it. I really hope someone picks it up for a movie.

Hounded_coverThe Iron Druid series (first book is Hounded) by Kevin Hearne is pretty darned close to the feel of the Dresden Files. Atticus is a sarcastic bastard, kind of like Harry, and the books have a similar feel. Hearne has a neat magic system that holds together well, and you’ll either love or hate Oberon the talking Wolfhound.

11737387Next up has to be the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. Verus is a diviner, and while Jacka does stretch my suspension of disbelief sometimes, the way he uses precognition is original and fantastic. Verus feels lots like Dresden without being an outright copycat. I picked up Fated, the first book in the series because of the Jim Butcher blurb on the cover. I’m a couple of books behind in this series, but I’ll be catching up soon.

Lots of people add Simon Green’s Nightside series to the list. Although I liked the premise (P.I. investigating hidden supernatural world in London), I couldn’t warm up to Green’s writing. Doesn’t mean you won’t like it, though.

8643407I new series I just discovered is The Grimnoir Chronicles. I listened to the audio version of the first book, Hard Magic, and I’ll be reviewing it in the next few weeks. It’s urban fantasy set in the era of Prohibition, and I loved it. I highly recommend listening to it. Bronson Pinchot is so good as a narrator.

I’ll close with Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson and its two sequels, Shadows of Self and The Bands of Mourning. It’s not modern-day urban fantasy, but it’s steampunk meets the Wild West meets fantasy magic, and it’s one of my favorite series ever. It has an urban fantasy feel to it, even though it’s not set in modern day Earth. I’m a bit behind and haven’t read the third book yet, but it’s on my to be read list.

10803121Well, I said I’d close with Alloy of Law, but okay, not quite. Jim Butcher was an inspiration for my series, and I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t recommend my own stuff too.

What’s your favorite urban fantasy series? I’m always looking for new great books to read. Please leave some recommendations in the comments.

The iPad Mini 4 is the Perfect eReader For Me. And Maybe For You

marvin on iPadLast year I upgraded my iPad 4 to an iPad Mini (4th generation) and wrote about my new tablet as a great writing device. It’s still a great writing device, for all the reasons I wrote about in November. What I hadn’t anticipated is that it would become the perfect eReader as well.

I’ve used many readers, starting with a Handspring Visor (anyone remember those?) back in the 90s. I’ve read on my phone, on various tablets and on eInk readers like my current Kindle Paperwhite. Something has always been missing. Phones aren’t quite big enough, especially as my eyes age. My previous iPads were just a bit too big to curl up with on the couch. Nooks and my Kindle Fire had issues. eInk devices can’t display comics well, and they don’t support Scribd, still my favorite ebook subscription service.

Then along came the Mini, which does everything.

It’s the perfect size for me. I can curl up and hold it comfortably everywhere: bed, couch, chair, dining room table or car. It’s small enough to fit in a shoulder bag and light enough that it doesn’t weigh me down. The screen is amazing, subtly better than my old iPad. It’s even readable in direct sunlight, which was a huge surprise. I bought an indulgent leather case from Sena, which makes it a joy to hold.

I do most of my reading in the Marvin app, which I wrote about extensively when I was with Teleread. It has enough options to satisfy almost any ebook reader:

  • Extensive formatting controls
  • The ability to show/hide reading progress
  • A timer to remind you to go to bed–I use this one all the time
  • 1 tap switch between color themes–I alternate between sepia, light gray and cream on dark gray
  • Lots of library management options

And that’s just the beginning. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend giving it a look. Unfortunately, it’s iOS only. Also, it only works with DRM-free books.

Now that I have upgraded to an iPhone 6S+, the Marvin sync feature comes in handy. While I don’t like reading on even a large-screen smartphone for long periods, the 6S+ the ideal on-the-go ereader. Marvin’s sync feature works flawlessly, allowing me to pick up and leave off, just as if I were using the Kindle app.

Looks like Steve Rogers should have bought an iPad.
Looks like Steve Rogers should have bought an iPad.

However, as I indicated earlier, I also read in Scribd and purchase the occasional comic to read in Comixology. Because of the guided panel view in Comixology, the smaller screen size of the Mini isn’t an issue. Scribd, of course, works well on the iPad, so, for the first time, I can do all my reading on one device. I realize some people don’t mind switching devices, but except for the brief phone sessions, I prefer to have one go-to device.

I haven’t abandoned my Paperwhite. It’s still going to be the camping reader. Some of the places we camp don’t have power, and a Kindle is easier to keep charged under those conditions. Other than camping, though, my other devices are feeling kind of abandoned right now.

“What about cost?” you ask. Yes, Apple devices are expensive. For me, what I realized after I purchased the Mini is that I had been spending a decent amount of money on other devices trying to find the one that worked for me. If I had just bought the original Mini, I would have saved a lot of money. On the other hand, experimentation showed me exactly what I wanted from my tablet, so I can’t say the money was wasted. My experience with Apple products is that they are worth the price, but my priorities might be different from yours. If you are leaning in that direction and need the push, go for it. If you’re a happy Fire or Android user, stick with what works for you.

Who knows?  A few months from now I might find the next perfect device, but right now, my Mini is the one.