Books, movies, and television are saturated with bad guys, some of whom we even like. Fagin. Beetlejuice. Shere Khan. Moby Dick. Macbeth. All the characters in Shameless.
But how can we write fictional villains when the world is teeming with real ones, walking invisibly among us? Apparently we talk to them, pour their coffee, greet them warmly, sell them guns, movie tickets, and muffins every day.
I’m struggling with this along with most of the rest of the world.
Of course. Of course people need stories to transport them out of their real lives. People need Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and Coraline and Madame Bovary and Leopold Bloom and Holden Caulfield and Atticus Finch.
But do we need another murderer? Another Norman Bates? Another Hannibal Lecter? Another Bill Sikes? Another Mr Ripley?
And then it came to me.
Yes, we do.
We need the villains so the heroes can win. We need the bad guys to get some kind of comeuppance, whether that’s prison, their eye-for-an-eye death, or just a life spent looking over their shoulder, waiting for whatever avenging shoe will drop and smoosh them.
Unlike real life, fictional murders are almost always tied up within a few hundred pages, a logical bow waving in the righteous breeze. Our hero figures out what happened, whodunnit, and usually why they dunnit.
Unlike real life.
And we need that.