Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.

Erik Kilmonger
African American man

I’ve always tried to make sure that my antagonist was as strong and multidimensional as possible. After all, a thriller is only as good as the villain is bad. Although it’s not a book, I have to give a shout-out to the screenwriters of the film, “Black Panther.” Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole rendered an antagonist, Erik Killmonger, who was vicious and without any remorse as he sought power in the interest of righting historical wrongs.

The line of dialogue quoted above became instantly iconic as it perfectly encapsulated Kilmonger’s character. He was a ruthless killer, but his motivation was grounded in the reality of the pain of injustice. More than once I’ve heard it said that he was a bad guy, but he wasn’t wrong. I consider Kilmonger to be one of the greatest film villains ever.

Man in mask

Another fascinating villain is Dr. Hannibal Lecter from the book, “The Silence of the Lambs.” Dr. Lecter was a killer and a cannibal, and he was the most compelling character in the story. Similar to Kilmonger, he had a tragic backstory; however, unlike Kilmonger, Lecter’s motivation was selfish and rooted in psychopathy. But when he was pretending to be human, he was a man of culture and exquisite manners. Sir Anthony Hopkins won an Academy Award for his depiction of Dr. Lecter in the film version of the book.

When writing characters who are villains, I love the fact that there is a cornucopia of human traits from which I can draw without limitation. There is so much room to be creative without worrying about making the villain likeable. And then there are so many ways I can go with it. I can make a likeable bad boy/girl or a repulsive one that my readers will always root against. Whichever way I choose to go, it won’t be wrong, and there’s a lot of freedom in that.

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