This is a genuine question I’ve been posing myself lately as I try to develop a new project. And unlikely as it seems, I’m finding it hard to answer.
I write for a young readership, a group of people who have been spoilt with bad guys over the years: The White Witch, Voldemort, Mrs Coulter, Mayor Prentiss, Capricorn from Inkheart, etc, etc. Some may be cheesier than others, but they are all fine examples of villainy, and I like to think my own Adam (from Haunters) would fit in nicely (or rather, not so nicely) beside them. Surely I need a real bad ‘un in my new book too.
But part of me, the part that – I’m embarrassed to say – has literary hang-ups, has been tugging his goatee of late. Do we really need one, he says, adjusting his authorial corduroy. Isn’t relying on a baddie to provide narrative tension a bit like relying on adverbs and exotic dialogue tags to tell the reader what’s happening? Can’t circumstances themselves create conflict and imbalance, without the need for some dastardly cape-swisher scheming in the shadows? Did Mark Haddon need a baddie to make The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time a compelling read? Did David Almond need the wicked cheese in Kit’s Wilderness? And so on…
That part of me could do with a slap, I know, but he does have a point. We all love a good villain, but nothing connects with readers quite like a sympathetic character struggling with true-life adversity.
So do I need a villain? I haven’t quite decided. But one thing I am sure about – by God, they’re fun to write!
Any views on this? Any favourite literary bad guys you want to share?