Do We Need Fictional Villains When We Have So Many Real Ones?

Yesterday morning I woke to the horrific news about the Las Vegas massacre. I tried to ignore the worst of it even as it swirled around me. But there was no escape.

Yesterday afternoon I abandoned my work on the outline for a new mystery. Even a cozy, light mystery seemed wrong.

This morning I saw on my To Do list that my blog post theme for tomorrow was “Villainy.”

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 them, walking invisible 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.

Early this morning, before the sun even hinted at a new dawn, I scrolled through my Facebook feed and saw this. I can’t verify anything but the truthiness of it.

what I do is important

“Of course,” I thought. “Of course people need stories to transport them out of their real lives.” And some will risk their life to do so. People need Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and Harry Potter 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?

Do we?

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.

Don’t we?




Author: Becky Clark

I write mysteries with humor and spend my free time attempting to rid my clothing of dog hair. My new book FICTION CAN BE MURDER, the first in the Mystery Writer's series, was out April 2018.

12 thoughts on “Do We Need Fictional Villains When We Have So Many Real Ones?”

  1. I absolutely agree. People read, in part, to escape. They immerse themselves is situations where they NEVER want to find themselves in real life. The thing they do not want to escape is justice. In day-to-day life, justice is often flawed or late to arrive. In fiction writers can make justice swift, exacting, and complete. The villains stand no chance against the pen (oops, against the word processor.)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think that’s why mysteries are so popular. It’s the old good vs. evil battle, but good and justice always win in the end. Also the reason for the recent resurgence of THE WEST WING & MADAME SECRETARY in which idyllic administrations elegantly resolve world problems within 45 minutes. So reassuring and satisfying. Total escape.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Absolutely we need fictional villains. Fiction gives the reader a feeling of control because no matter how awful the fictional actions of the villain, the protagonists triumph in some way.


  4. Great post, Becky. You bring up really good points. Echoing others, but I agree we need villains in fiction, if anything to give us hope that we can overcome adversity in real life.


  5. Many times, it feels as if fiction is the only place in which we see justice.

    The real world is too busy, too complicated, and is suffocated by the number of instances in which we want justice. Plea deals abound because the bad guys outnumber the good guys and the good guys run out of time. Good guys have voters and supervisors always looking over their shoulders, making sure they do things right (from all the points of view that the onlookers hold). Bad guys are free to make it up as they go along, and abandon fruitless (from their point of view) endeavors — unless, of course, they’re doing the bidding of bigger bad guys.

    Perhaps without fiction the weight of injustice would crush us.


  6. Without villains our heroes would get bored. Within a year they’d be fat and lazy and more interested in daytime television than the real world. Hairlines and braincells would recede (both male and female) and I’m certain their capacity to carry on a conversation would be threatened.

    Fantabulous post, my friend!


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