Personally, I like a bad guy with something of if not a soft side, certainly a little rational. There needs to be a moment when we like him, or we sympathise with him or hell, we even want to be him, just a little. Bad guys get to do all the things we can't, and most of the things we don't want to. We've all had moment when we've fantasised about offing an ex, a boss, a rival, and bad guys gets to do that. In fiction at least, we do like to be given a reason why the bad guy is bad, we like a back story - it's very hard to justify a bad guy who's just bad because, well, he's bad. And that's part of the appeal, unpicking a bad guy to see how he was made, to see if we could do better, or worse, than him.
Hero's have a hard time of it really, they have be heroic and they have to be moral, and as a result so many of them come off as a bit preachy, a bit dull and well, a bit humourless.
The best of both worlds of course is the anti-hero - the bad guy who underneath has a heart of gold, or the moral centre, the one who at the very last, saves the day, often at the cost of their own happiness - it is a far far better thing I do today, than I have ever done before - and so forth.
The reason I am thinking about this is that tonight I am working up to the first scene where my own particular bad guy makes his entrance stage right.
He is going to do, is doing, terrible things off stage but when he appears, my characters have no prior knowledge of him and so he must appear if not innocent, certainly ambiguous at first. But oh, we the reader will suss his him out from the start, we'll catch the scent of sulphur and the darkness which hangs around him - but should we? Is that the correct way to do it - should he be totally bland and inoffensive from the start?
He could.....but he's not going to be. Because although he's the bad guy, he's not the only bad guy. There are two others, one a dashing but troubled artist who really is going to do a number on my main character, and the other?
Why, he's so evil we'll hardly notice him at all. Until it's too late. And he's an example of the real and most pervasive form of evil - that of the banal.
That's what makes him a really bad guy.
I'd love to hear about your favourite bad guys, your own or ones you love from fiction.