I'm sure I'm not the only one who conjures up images of a super hero's nemesis when I think of the word "villain." Maniacal laughter, sickening ultimatums and time-limit games.
In reality, a guy who sports a crazy laugh is about as elusive as one whose bum lights up. Which it might, if he's sporting villainous neon green tights. Not the common get-up of your everyday criminal mastermind.
Then we have our action/spy/mystery villains. Gangs, mobsters, foreigners, cults, sadists, molesters, psychopaths... These non-neon-clad people seem to have more plausibly in our minds. They lack flair perhaps but they have more grit and realism.
Stereotypes exist for a reason...but they're old, they're boring. These cliché villains should make us roll our eyes and stop reading, right?
Except, they often don't.
Much as I may harp on about wanting to read multifaceted antagonists, those "bad guy" clichés still get under my skin. For example, that mean girl arch nemesis of the protagonist? I should hate her because she is tedious and predictable but she curls my toes and aggravates me in the way she does the main character.
Conflict is the key to story telling. Could it be that these unsympathetic and unoriginal characters are good for writing?
My thoughts are divided. On the one hand, I believe that cruel people do exist and to pretend they don't would be ignorant. There are characters who are in such opposition to the protagonist that they can't not hit all the wrong spots with the reader. On the other hand, if a character is cruel/mean/tedious to the point of being dull, I will stop reading.
Do villains work? Yes, they do. Why? It is because they hit a nerve with the reader. Think of all the Good v.s. Evil plots. They should be a cliché to be avoided but I am sure some of your favourites are among them.
A well-written villain is a powerful tool for a writer to wield as long as it is done right. Who are some of the villainous characters that have worked for you, despite their lack of redeeming qualities?