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I love making up story characters, especially bad guys (or gals). There’s something deeply satisfying about coming up with someone who’s truly rotten to the core and watching them come alive on the page.
When I’m looking for evil inspiration, my first port of call is the kids’ Disney video collection. If you haven’t watched many Disney’s animated classics lately you might find that surprising, but over the years, those clever folks have brought us plenty of excellent examples of how to create a great villain.
I’m a big Walt Disney fan myself, which is just as well since my autistic daughters play the movies pretty much around the clock.  One of the reasons I enjoy them so much is because they so often have such deliciously evil characters.
Remember Snow White’s evil stepmother, as voiced by Lucille La Verne in the 1937 animated classic which rocketed Disney studios into the public eye? How about the delightfully wicked Ursula from The Little Mermaid (1989), voiced by Part Carroll (to my mind one of the best evil voices ever)? 
It’s hard to pick a favorite Disney villain. If I had to choose, then Captain Hook (Hans Conried) from 1953’s Peter Pan would be in the running, as would Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price) from Basil the Great Mouse Detective (1986) – in any event, Ratigan wins the ‘Best evil mastermind song’ contest hands down – but I think my all-time favorite is Betty Lou Gerson’s, Cruella De Vil, from One Hundred and One Dalmations (1961), based on the novel by Dorothy (Dodie) Smith.
There’s something wonderfully horrible about Cruella’s cold-hearted quest to make fur coats out of 99 cute, lovable Dalmation puppies. She’ll always have a place in my heart, though I wouldn’t let her within a mile of the little rabbits which live in our back yard.
So here’s to Disney: Thanks for inspiring me with all those great bad guys (and gals). Over the top, wantonly wicked and callously cruel, the way all good villains should be! 
How about you?
Where do you look for villainous inspiration? 


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( 87 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 15th, 2010 12:26 pm (UTC)
I've met a fair number of callous and cruel people in real life, even if of the petty variety, so I feel I've got source material already. :-/
May. 15th, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Honestly?
No dalmation coats though, I hope :)
(Deleted comment)
May. 15th, 2010 05:33 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
May. 15th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)
politicians, gossipy snobby mothers (at my kids' former school) and real estate agents ;-)
May. 15th, 2010 05:38 pm (UTC)
Preferrably all rolled into one character, right? :)
May. 15th, 2010 01:02 pm (UTC)
I think if I were looking for a villain, I'd probably blend a bit of both what you say here with what other commenters have said. I'm afraid of villains though. I stay pretty clear of them and generally make the antagonist simply another faction of the main character, what a character battles in him or herself. In my vampire novel, the supposed "bad guy" kills with much tenderness, and shows only passion and love for people, even if he does kill them as part of his vampire makeup.

I'm seriously a wimp when it comes to nasty :) Cruella was done well, but I can't come to appreciate her, even as a writer. It IS something that I've considered working on though. Trying deliberately to create someone really cruel. I think we should all be able to do that. It's great that you enjoy it! Whipping up something larger than life out of nothing. :)
May. 15th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC)
I was very pleased with Lazarus, the sadistic drug baron I made up for Waking up Jack Thunder. He's more than a little insane (pushed over the edge by two days of KGB torture when they wouldn't believe he wanted to defect to the East, which he did), which is why, even though he rarely raises his voice or uses bad language, his people are frightened of him.
(Deleted comment)
May. 15th, 2010 01:22 pm (UTC)
The harshest criticism one can make of a villain in a story
is to say that s/he was taken from a Disney movie.

Give the devil his due, as they say.
Saint George would not have become a saint if he'd only slain a dragonfly.

Everybody has a reason.

In No Country for Old Men, the psychotic killer has a standard of ethics,
to which he adheres psychotically.
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
Vikki Peterson was taken from Denzel Washington's character
in A Soldier's Story.

But most of my writing lacks formal villains.

"The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men.
The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations."
May. 15th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but it's those 'seldom' folks who make the best villains, I think.
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 06:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 01:13 pm (UTC)
Hey Jon, did you know that Walt Disney's head has been in cryogenic suspension for years now? It's true. Or it was. I won it in a poker game last night. But I really don't want the thing. If you like, I'll ship it to you and you and the family can use it as a kickball or put it up on the mantel or something. ;-)

Oh, to answer your question, Sam Kinison will do for starters.
May. 15th, 2010 05:45 pm (UTC)
Was it just his head? I thought they froze the whole body.
(no subject) - marshallpayne1 - May. 15th, 2010 06:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 06:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - marshallpayne1 - May. 16th, 2010 02:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 16th, 2010 09:48 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
May. 15th, 2010 05:57 pm (UTC)
Remind me never to get on your bad side :)
May. 15th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
I look into my own heart ;p
May. 15th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, me too.
And if the villains in your heart aren't frightening enough,
I resort to looking into mine.
(no subject) - peadarog - May. 15th, 2010 04:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 05:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peadarog - May. 16th, 2010 08:37 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 05:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peadarog - May. 16th, 2010 08:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 16th, 2010 09:52 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 01:46 pm (UTC)
As you're a YA writer, I can totally see why Disney villains appeal. They are (usually) just comical enough to sweeten their villainy. They're vanquishable. Kids need to inherently KNOW the bad guy is going to lose in the end, even if things don't look so great until the end.

Scar was, by FAR, the best Disney villain, IMO. Jeremy Irons, Hamlet undertones--amazing.

As for my own villains, I couldn't claim any source outside my own wicked mind.
May. 15th, 2010 02:12 pm (UTC)
yeah, scar is a contender for "Best Disney Animation Villain"
i thought Frollo had unusual depth...
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - May. 15th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 05:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - May. 15th, 2010 06:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 01:48 pm (UTC)
Malificent is, to me, the greatest of Disney villains. Although the one in Mulan is scarier--he scared me and I was THIRTY. But I don't remember his name, so Malificent wins. (Angelina Jolie tells a story of her oldest son, when he was a toddler, seeing *Sleeping Beauty* and calling Malificent "Mommy!" Heheheh...)

I don't focus on evil characters in my mysteries, and I prefer victims the reader will feel bad about, but I have thought up a few baddies. I once saw a trainer behave very badly at a horse show, beating up on a horse really unfairly--show management saw the whole thing and I hope he was penalized. I confidently expect to fictitiously kill him someday. The killer in my current story is motivated by understandable grief and a desire for revenge, but I expect readers to side with the mostly harmless musicians he's targeting.
May. 15th, 2010 02:22 pm (UTC)
Jon's never complained about me quoting my own work,
and this seems like a good moment to do that.

I'm sure you could easily guess that Casablanca is my favourite movie ever. And you surely have no doubt that I cry when they sing Le Marseilles. You probably won't even be surprised to know that I usually stand while they sing it. What might amaze you, however, is that I cry when they sing "Watch on the Rhine." You see, I also understand the point of view of the hound.

Those men singing, when they were young, saw their nation defeated and humiliated, and felt it being gelded. It was a shame they could not live with, and yet they had no choice. When the Nazis offered them a chance at redemption, gave them back their dignity and their pride, they accepted the cost that came with. Becoming inhuman was a small price to pay. I understand, and I weep for them.

But I'm also aware that the actors themselves were Jewish refugees. Circumstances had compelled them to wear the uniform of their enemy, and to sing their enemy's rallying song. I understand, and I weep for them.
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - paulwoodlin - May. 16th, 2010 04:03 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 01:49 pm (UTC)
I LOVE a bad guy/gal. I especially like the ones that you can't decide if they are good or bad.

Where do I get my inspiration? Well, I have run into some cruel/harsh people in my life. Plus my profession exposes me to A LOT of clients with personality "quirks" that are inspiring.

(GoodReads says you have a new post, but when I clicked on it, it said it did not exist. Sometimes GoodReads is squirrelly.)

Edited at 2010-05-15 01:50 pm (UTC)
May. 15th, 2010 02:33 pm (UTC)
That's what made the spiderman movies so good.
Most of the villains had good reasons for doing bad things,
and Peter Parker was often not exemplary himself.
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - May. 15th, 2010 05:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - May. 15th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tracy_d74 - May. 15th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 02:00 pm (UTC)
That's a really good point. Their villains are pretty frigging evil.

I often think back to HeMan and Inspector Gadget and all of my favorite cartoons from when I was a kid (still love them, just harder to watch them these days. No cable :) ) So, kind of Disney like.
May. 15th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
And let's not forget Scooby Doo (my persoanl fave) :)
(no subject) - phoenixfirewolf - May. 15th, 2010 06:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 02:03 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I go to any one source. I like my villains with a little bit of sympathy in. I certainly agree that Cruella De Vil is a fine villain indeed, but she does lack that sympathy quotient. Hard to root for the lady who wants to skin puppies. (Though I loved her song, and also loved Mr. Burns' filk of it.)

A villain, after all, is not a villain from his own point of view. When we think about the worst villains in Real World history, none of them personally thought themselves bad. Do we really think Pol Pot sat around thinking, "I'm so very, very, evil!"? But, like Cruella, it's hard to sympathize with his POV. But plenty of villains, both IRL and in fiction have their good (or less bad) sides. Davros, after all, was trying to save his species from extinction. So he turned them into a bunch of genocidal, monomaniacal, nearly unstoppable killing machines. He pulled them back from the brink of extinction, right?
I also have a job that lets me see all sorts of sides of people.
May. 15th, 2010 02:32 pm (UTC)
Ooo! Another chance to quote myself!!!
Although it was not reported at the time, Stalin went into something like a mild state of shock when he fully grasped the reality of the German attack. Feeling that he had, in his own words, “fucked up,” he secluded himself for more than a week, finally offering his resignation to the Politburo. Rather than have him arrested and executed, as he expected, they refused his resignation. When he wondered aloud if he were able to lead the nation to victory, they insisted that he must, that no one else among them could. With this, he began to recover, returning to his Kremlin office the next day.

On July 3rd, he addressed the nation. Speaking softly and setting aside the usual Party claptrap, he simply reassured his people by calling on their love of country. Strangely, perhaps miraculously, they responded.

* * *

How does one make sense of Joseph Stalin, that crude thug from an obscure corner of a vast country, who rode out a peculiar turn of events with a bit of luck and a lot of savage cunning to become a modern Ivan Grozny and rise to a prominence beyond anything any of the Romanovs could have coveted? By almost any standard, this brutal oaf is far from heroic, and if he were not an outstanding figure in world history, he could only be a character in the coarsest farce.

In The Red Pony, John Steinbeck proposes that when a man is needed, a boy will become a man. Likewise, Joseph Stalin, by his life and his role in history, demonstrates that when a hero is needed, a monster will become a hero. It is, of course, preposterous to suggest that our world owes its existence to a sociopath directly responsible for more deaths then can be attributed to Hitler himself, and yet it is absurdly true that with nothing more than his pluck at the right moment, Stalin wrested the world from Hitler’s grasp, as had Churchill before him.
Re: Ooo! Another chance to quote myself!!! - neonorne - May. 15th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Ooo! Another chance to quote myself!!! - msstacy13 - May. 15th, 2010 09:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Ooo! Another chance to quote myself!!! - neonorne - May. 16th, 2010 05:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Ooo! Another chance to quote myself!!! - msstacy13 - Jul. 30th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Ooo! Another chance to quote myself!!! - msstacy13 - May. 16th, 2010 09:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - May. 15th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jjschwabach - May. 15th, 2010 10:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - neonorne - May. 16th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 15th, 2010 02:38 pm (UTC)
Old episodes of Star Trek. Those were some villains...
May. 15th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
I like the salt-sucking shape-shifter, who murdered McCoy's old flame.
(no subject) - latteya - May. 15th, 2010 08:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
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