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If you’re like me then you love a well-written bad guy. Sometimes they’re even more interesting than the main character, regardless of how distinct the hero might be (Case in point: Hannibal Lecter). I’ve decided the biggest reason for this is because we enjoy exploring the darker side of humanity, that door into the basement, that shrouded place of both screams and silence.

In my reading I’ve noticed three different types of antagonists. Sometimes they overlap to varying degrees but in general they fall into these categories:

The Thug: Straightforward killer, brutal in their way, predictable and singleminded.

The Villain: More menacing in their motivations. Clever and complex, layered by circumstance, twisted by fate or ambition.

The Madman: The creature who not only lives with the darkness inside him but embraces it–the kind who abides by no agenda, the kind who inflicts pain for its own sake. Because they like it. Because it excites them. The kind that, if we caught a glimpse of what lay behind that darkness, we’d find only a deeper pit devoid of light and compassion.

As I’ve been finishing up Inquisitor, the third installment of my Sci-Fi series Insurrection, I thoroughly trekked into that darkness. Told from the point of view of an antagonist, the character falls under the last category with maybe an elbow in the second one. Writing him has been tricky. He evaded me for a while, not letting me into his head, laughing at my frustration, but I finally cornered the bastard and tuned into his voice. It concerns me a touch to find myself fascinated as I explore that viscious mind, those cunning and fearsome thoughts. In the end, I came to this conclusion: The scariest people don’t come on like a storm, raging and wild as they rush in from the horizon. No, for me, the most terrifying people are the ones whose malice oozes from them like a clot of oil from the ground, whose eyes track your every movement debating whether to let you pass by…or not. A cold shadow whose gaze is both empty and overwhelming, and completely inhuman.

In all my movie watching, I’ve come across only a few of these monsters who made my heart thunder from their mere presence on the screen, a softly spoken voice that shutters something truly heinous. From No Country for Old men, this is one of the best examples I’ve ever seen:

What are some of your favorite bad guys, either in movies or books? Do you prefer a raging antagonist of unthethered brutality or one who moves with unpredictable quiet?