Here for another post in celebration of unlikable characters is Shira Glassman, here to chat about the sexy villain phenomenon.
You know who was pretty damn popular in ‘shippy and slashy fanfiction when I was in college and the Harry Potter books/movies were current? Severus Snape. Yet how many of us really want a man who’s rude to powerless children and has questionable loyalties? More recently, the Avengers franchise showed us that Loki could attract just as much sexual attention as the All-American soldier, billionaire, and even actual Viking god characters fighting against him. But we don’t really want violent, lying men who are really just angry children in our lives, do we?
Of course we don’t! But Snape and Loki have things that fiction doesn’t always give to the good guys: they have style. They have long, flowing dark hair, they’re snarky, they’re unpredictable. They have capes.
The attraction some women have for “bad boys” is legendary, but I’m not even talking about that. I’m talking about – why can’t we have more good guys who dress and talk like the bad ones? After all, if it’s truly Loki’s treachery and destructive powers that make him evil, not his cape or cool horned helmet, then let’s have more good guys with capes and cool horned helmets.
I consciously set out to do this when I created the main guy in my book series, because I, too, was one of those women perpetually crushing on the “bad guys” – starting with an evil wizard in an opera and going on up through Darth Vader and yes, Snape – not because of their villainy but in spite of it. All while desperately wanting them to actually Be Good. Not “reformed”, not “changed by the love of a good woman” (or man, or nonbinary person) but already good. In other words, someone in a black cloak with a goatee and a deep voice and a snarky sense of humor who was safe to love.
Otherwise, we’re gonna keep winding up in the position of finding the characters we’re not supposed to like more appealing than the ones you are.
And it doesn’t help that various phenotypic traits are often coded into heroes and bad guys based on racist and otherwise bigoted tropes, especially in fantasy, where the coding is buried so deeply most modern creators don’t even realize where the tropes they’re drawing on even come from.
Are you attracted to a sexy villain? If it’s the dangerousness you like, cool; if not, think for a moment about what elements of their style it is that draws you in. What would that look like on a good guy? Or maybe on a “grey hat” character who works with the good guys—as opposed to an actual villain? Would it work? Maybe you should write it.