‘Another Literary Crime’

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There are many things a writer can do to wreck his own work. One of them is to make the reader think that you think he’s a dunce who can’t tell good from evil.

Another Literary Crime

Why else would the author continually editorialize about his characters? How badly do we need to be told that the villain is a bad guy? Page after page after page?

And yet we see this, sometimes in fantastically successful best-selling books. Never mind that those books will be forgotten someday, while better books live on. For the time being, they’re selling like hotcakes.

I think it’s just further evidence that we’re living in a fallen world.

‘Stupid Masterminds!’ (2012)

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Prof. Moriarty, as captured in Strand Magazine

It’s pretty much a ghost town here this morning, with zero comments and just three likes, and one reader sort of standing in the empty street wondering where everybody went. Oh, well… We have not yet recovered from July.

Meanwhile, why are our real-life villains so stupid compared to fictional villains?

Stupid Masterminds!

And this was written years before anybody thought we ought to have a senile Joe Biden for our president and a Green New Deal to murder our economy–just in case any of it survives the coronavirus panic. Our villains hatch schemes that are guaranteed to fail!

But at least they all get rich, doing it. No one comes home poor from Capitol Hill.

‘Stupid Masterminds!’ (2012)

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Here’s a stupid thing imposed on us by stupid government–monkeying around with the time, and calling it Daylight Savings Time–when all it is, is getting up 20 minutes early and find yourself already 40 minutes late.

Stupid Masterminds!

Fictional villains can’t afford to be big stupid idiots. Readers wouldn’t stand for it. Prof. Moriarty has to be at least as smart as Sherlock Holmes or you don’t have a story. All you have then is The Swamp.

‘Toxic Fiction’ (2013)

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Remember the classic (1978-91) hit TV show, Dallas–and its mega-popular villain, J.R. Ewing (played by Larry Hagman)? J.R. did a lot of really nasty things to a lot of people.

And in real life, there were actually adult human beings who… well, who wanted to be like him.

Toxic Fiction

I suppose it could be worse. Someone might want to be like Hillary Clinton. But we’re talking adults here, and adults are supposed to be past that kind of thing.

And we’re also talking pop culture “entertainment”–a slow-acting but exceedingly powerful toxin.

Unless it’s our sleazy culture that generates our sleazy entertainment. Could we be talking about a vicious circle here?

‘How Bad Should Your Villains Be?’ (2016)

I’ve always heard that most actors enjoy playing villains. It’s kind of fun to write about them, too. Fictional villains, that is. Not real ones.


Note to those who really want me to unravel Obann’s glorious past: Some of that will be done in Book No. 11, The Temptation, so please stay tuned.

‘When to Kill Off Your Characters’ (2014)

This is always provided Lord Reesh doesn’t take revenge on me today by having me murdered during surgery. That’s how they got rid of Lenin’s widow, you know. You could look it up–under “Better Living Through Communism.”


How Bad Should Your Bad Guys Be?

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People think it’s easy and fun to create villains for your fiction. Fun, yes; easy, no.

Don’t worry, I won’t make one of those political jokes. “I stop one step short of making them as bad as Hillary Clinton.” Oops.

I find that, in writing up villains, the most important consideration is the character’s motivation. What makes him or her do bad things? Here are some of the motivations I’ve resorted to.

The villain honestly thinks he’s doing good. This easily descends into sheer fanaticism, which I don’t think is quite as common in real life as movies suggest. Much better is–

The villain has selfish or personal reasons for doing evil, which he has rationalized into altruistic reasons. This kind of self-deception is easy to find in real life. “I’m doing this for your good!” Haven’t we all heard that a thousand times before!

Burning with lust for someone (or something) that he doesn’t have, and probably can never get, the villain stops at nothing. This was what motivated Lord Reesh in my Bell Mountain books: he had a vision of Obann’s ancient greatness, and the near-fantastic powers wielded by men of those days, and nothing would ever satisfy him but to bring back those times–in pursuit of which, there was nothing that he wouldn’t sacrifice.

The villain is a moral imbecile and simply doesn’t know any better. According to classical leftist ideology, this is always the case–“It’s the unjust society that’s at fault, not the armed robber!” Yeah, where has the system failed you, sunshine?

Simple greed, simple lust for power–I’m from New Jersey, so I’ve seen how often these sordid motives inspire various crimes.

The one thing I try to do, with every villain I create, is to make his actions understandable and acceptable to himself. I believe most bad guys think they’re good guys, even if they have to engage in almost superhuman mental gymnastics to do it. Really, how many bad guys in real life ever sit down and think, “Gee, I really am garbage”? Much more common is, “I got a raw deal!”

So stay away from two-dimensional, sneering, mustache-twirling villains who tie Little Nell to the railroad tracks and kick poor Grandma out of the farmhouse.

Villains who think they’re good are much more fun to write about–and way more true to life! I’m sure you can think of a couple dozen real-life examples inside of ten minutes.