In romance fiction, heroes and heroines are the ones who—in real life—would get trotted around to the all the talk shows. They’re pretty. Everyone’s besotted with them. At some point, shirts would start coming off and you’d get to see a lot of ripped abs.
But unlike real life, villains are the ones who keep you turning the page.
They’re the characters we love to hate, the foils that keep our heroes hopping.
Nothing turns me off faster than a one-dimensional villain. I don’t want a cape-wearing, mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash tying poor Nell Fenwick to the train tracks. I don’t want a prop designed to make the heroine look good (the jealous, chunky “bestie” is a trope I particularly despise.)
I like my villains like I prefer my men: subtle.
It pays to remember that villains never think of themselves as evil; they just want things that are diametrically opposed to what the hero and the heroine want.
And that’s where I came up with what is perhaps my most memorable villain, Kayla Nolen, who is Cassidy Roby’s bête noire in DREAM ON.
As it turns out, Kayla is an amalgam of several people I remember from high school. Pretty, popular, insufferably vapid. Kayla’s just one of those folks who thinks everyone should be exactly like she is—the right church, the right number of children, the right kind of hen-pecked husband.
You will find many such odious creatures chairing civic organizations and den momming their kids’ kindergarten classrooms.
Kayla’s disapproval of Cassidy is palpable. One reader wrote me personally to say she wanted to reach inside the book and rip Kayla’s head off (a sentiment I heartily share).
Sometimes a villain will surprise you.
In SWEET DREAMS, the second book in my Dreams Come True series, the foil to Jake and Maggie’s budding romance is a sleek, sophisticated, opposite-to-Maggie-in-every-way character named Carmen de Boers.
As a habitué of Jake’s social circles, Carmen thinks she and Jake would make the perfect power couple. But when she realizes things may not turn out quite the way she was hoping they would, she gives him a piece of advice that serves as the turning point of the entire book. This would be a case of the villain-as-hero, which is lots of fun, too.
But in DREAM LOVER, the last book in my series, the villain isn’t actually external. There’s a foil, sure, but she’s not THE villain.
No, in this case, the enemy is the enemy within. April Roby, youngest member of the Roby family, spooked by her sisters’ romantic disasters, finds herself instantly, almost fatally, attracted to bad boy Brandon McBride.
Her turmoil comes from wanting someone she can’t have and shouldn’t want—versus doing the thing she took an oath to do, which is protecting the children of Cuervo in her care.
So why do we love villains?
My answer might trouble you.
We are villains.
Don’t get me wrong—we’re heroes, too. But that darker, more shadowy aspect of our personalities, the one that’s right below the surface of our everyday sunny selves, still exists. It’s still mucking around in our subconscious.
We live as vicariously through a villain as we do a hero. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s the very reason we read books and watch movies. On some level, we’re playing both roles.
Look at villains as avatars of Freud’s id, that atavistic part of the ego that wants and smashes and yells. Isn’t that what a villain does? A villain is nothing more than an unethical hero. And in some stories (Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” for instance) the villain and the hero are basically the same guy.
Love your heroes. But love your villains, too. Recognize their humanity in a book and in yourself.
It feels good to admit that you’re a cloth made of many fabrics, doesn’t it? Saint, sinner, brigand, belle.
It proves we are just as colorful and story-worthy as anyone we read about in a book!
In one little town in Texas, even toeing the straight and narrow might lead you to a joyride . . .
April Roby believes in avoiding entanglements—and her beloved sisters have given her a master class in what heartbreak looks like. So, no matter who tries to fix her up, April is sticking to her thick manila folders and her frumpy beige skirts, and putting her time and energy toward helping the kids of Cuervo, Texas as a social worker. Her latest client, foul-mouthed fourteen-year-old Matthew McBride, would be enough on his own to keep two of her busy. And his big brother Brandon is a whole different type of problem.
Brandon is the kind of muscle-bound, motorcycle-riding bad boy that no well-meaning relative would ever try to shove in April’s path. He’s prickly, he’s rude, and he’s downright obstructive. But there’s something about him that makes her want to take the smirk off his face the fun way. Neither one of them is looking for a fairy-tale ending. But in Cuervo, Texas, they just might get one anyway . . .