In creating villains, writers have the onerous task of building a person who is responsible for the protagonist’s growth.  If the writer is committed enough, the villain will be a three-dimensional nightmare whom we’d never want to marry, but whom we’d want to google now and again, just to keep us a safe distance from the dark side of business.  Moriarty, the White Witch, Mrs. Coulter, Tom Ripley, Hades, Moby Dick, Hannibal Lecter, Mr. Kurtz, Voldemort, Iago, and Alex Forrest are some of many villains who attach us firmly to their inescapable, immoral predispositions, inviting readers along for the ride.  And we want this ride, but only if the villain is worth our time, only if he imbues us with the need to examine our own intricate value system.  Readers get to ask themselves how they would handle the bad guy differently from how the protagonist does.  And that’s great fun.

Here’s a villain, Garth Hannagh,  from The Drowning of Margaret Hannagh:


There wasn’t a day that passed from early morning to late night that Garth Hannagh didn’t wish his wife, Margaret, dead.  He dreamed about it – waking up in a thrill-seeking sweat.  In his office he daydreamed about M.Os.:  arsenic, a pillow, a vertical fall, a blunt weapon.  Garth had never imagined a drowning, until May 24, 1881, Victoria Day.  He had no idea fate would deal him a river, a catastrophe, and an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.  He hadn’t planned on killing Margaret that precise day, but when he quickly assessed his dreams, daydreams, and the harsh reality of his loveless marriage, he let fate seduce him into fulfilling his death wish and acted like any man of war would.  Margaret had become his enemy and needed to be eliminated.


Garth sat on the edge of the cot.  The boy remained limp.  He lifted his hand, then let it fall.  He leaned in close to the boy’s ear and whispered, “If you wake and say anything about that day by the river and that black-haired woman, I’ll come for your mama and cut her up and feed her to the pumas.”   Amos’s eyelids fluttered.  Garth wasn’t expecting it.  He would have let the boy live in a moment of his own spiritual reinvention, but the boy’s eyelids fluttered in new horror – perhaps just enough horror to quicken the boy’s will to survive and to see justice served.