Why aren’t there more evil female villains?

Best villainess ever...

The other day, Cassandra Jade had a post asking people about their favorite female protagonists.  Check it out if you haven’t already–lots of good characters listed.  Well, this got me thinking about the flipside of the coin, and I tried to come up with a mental list of favorite female villains.  Surprisingly, I could only think of a few, and now I’m wondering if my memory is just really shoddy, or if there really is a shortage of female villains.

When I say “female villains,” I mean truly evil characters.  Not the bitchy boss, the lying friend who isn’t really a friend, the snarky whatever.  I mean the kind of villain who wants to kill or hurt people, or take over the world, or…well, be really evil.  Can you think of any good ones? So far, I’ve thought of the White Witch from “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” by C.S. Lewis, Umbridge from “The Order of the Phoenix,” by JK Rowling, and, well, I’m sure there must be many more, but I’m mostly drawing a blank.  I know a lot of the different fairy-tale retellings have the evil witch or stepmother figures, and there are some female villains in different series; Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books have some good ones, for instance, but they all feel almost like minor villains since they only really affect the one book they’re in, and not the series as a whole.  But maybe I’m just being picky.

If you think of any good ones, let me know.  I’m curious, and I’ve now decided I’ll have to have a good female villain in my own future writing.

Published in: on May 21, 2010 at 11:41 am  Comments (7)  
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Why is it so hard to write really, horribly, truly evil characters?


I was just reading an interesting post by KT Literary about villains–the merits of the truly evil vs. the understandable, possibly redeemable evil, and which is easiest to write about.  From the comments, it looks like most people (including myself) have trouble writing about completely 100% no redeemable characteristics evil characters, which got me wondering why.  Here’s my best guess:

Truly evil characters have no good qualities.  They are doing everything for their own selfishness, or greed, or malice.  They don’t love anyone, and they don’t want anyone’s love.  These are the true villains, characters like Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, Duke Roger from the Alanna series, and It from A Wrinkle in Time (to name a few YA examples).  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that truly evil villains like these are fun, and almost admirable, at least from a story viewpoint.  You can joyfully hate them and root for the protagonist whole-heartedly without any twinges of guilt, like you might have when faced with those wishy-washy good intentions villains.

However, from a writer viewpoint, these characters are hard to create because they are hard to understand.  As soon as you understand someone’s motives, you can usually see some sort of good in their original intentions, or some tragic background that warped them and set them on the dark and ugly path they are now traversing.  As a writer, it’s your job to understand your characters, to figure out their backstory and motivations so that they become three-dimensional, and as real as ink and paper can make them.  And once you understand your characters, how can you find them evil without realizing why they’ve become this way?

This is why most really evil characters aren’t necessarily given a lot of backstory, because it’s hard to see that and not find something good or sympathetic in the character.  The exception would be Lord Voldemort, who is given a sad past and a lot of backstory and yet is entirely unsympathetic–there’s nothing good in him and there never was.  Otherwise, I think if you’ll look at most villains, the ones with backstory and clear motives beyond the purely self-serving are always shades of gray, and the pure black are almost mysteries to the reader, existing only as the villain they are and not giving the reader a glimpse into who they used to be, or why they really want the destruction of the world/protagonist/etc.

And in personal news, the police found our car.  Yay! Surprisingly, nothing was stolen, which is unfortunate, actually, cause there’s a whole lot of crap in that car…but I’m very thankful to have it back!!

Published in: on May 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm  Comments (4)  
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