Villains. They’re the characters we love to hate in suspense, sci-fi, or mysteries. But occasionally, they appear in a romance and mess up things spectacularly for our heroes and heroines. They test our patience. They test our willingness to forgive. They test our ability to throw a book across a room. And yet, we recognize that they play a pivotal role in the uniting of our main couple, even if they cause a ton of grief in the process.
Romance villains come in many forms. Here are six types you may recognize:
Of course, the ex-boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, wife, or husband are always lingering about, ready to complicate the next relationship for our hero or heroine. Think Cal in Titanic or the poor Mrs. Rochester in Jane Eyre (was she even an ex? I don’t think so). Even though they’ve proven themselves to be wrong for our characters, they still carry a flame for them, and given the right fuel, that flame can turn into a wildfire.
For Christian Romance: Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter, my own This Wandering Heart and Glory Falls
The Family Member:
Maybe they mean well. Maybe they don’t. Either way, family members can wreak havoc for a sweet, young couple trying to make it work. Think of Allie’s parents in The Notebook, Ariel’s anti-dancing preacher-father in Footloose, or Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice (he was like a brother to Mr. Darcy, remember?). Then there’s Paul in Redeeming Love. No character makes me scream into my pillow like Michael Hosea’s wayward brother-in-law, who says and does everything awful in Francine Rivers’ beloved book.
For Christian Romance: Can’t Help Falling by Kara Isaac, Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Joanne Bischof, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, The Love Letter by Rachel Hauck, Honeysuckle Dreams by Denise Hunter, A Heart Revealed by Josi Kilpack
My favorite type of villain. In every story I write, I always want to toss one of these into the mix. Wuthering Heights isn’t so much a romance as a tragedy, but Heathcliff is the ultimate stalker due to his crazy obsession with Catherine. Then there’s everyone’s favorite misogynist, Gaston. He’s positively primeval!
For Christian Romance: Wildflower Road by me, To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer
Friends are the best…until they’re not. Some villains emerge from our characters’ inner circle. They may use the pretense of knowing what’s best for our hero or heroine, but often they are fueled by jealousy, pride, or power. Picture Regina George from Mean Girls, Sharpay Evans from High School Musical (totally a romance in my opinion!), Lucy from 13 Going on 30.
For Christian Romance: Her One and Only by Becky Wade (Don’t get mad, but Corbin was kind of villainy by urging Gray into that bet)
There’s nothing worse than having to choose between a paycheck and freedom from a villain. When the bad guy works with or above our characters, they find themselves trapped. See Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada or literally ANYONE who works with Andi or Ben in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.
For Christian Fiction: The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof, Redeeming Love (again) by Francine Rivers, “On Angel Wings” by me in the Love’s Pure Light Collection, A Twist of Faith by Pepper Basham (again, that whole bet thing)
The Politician/Person in Power:
Prince Humperdink or Sheriff of Nottingham, anyone? Power certainly does corrupt, even in the most beautiful of love stories. Place that power in a small town with fewer people to keep him/her in check, and the villain’s hold over the character increases. Personally, I love love love adding a corrupt politician into my stories, perhaps because it’s sadly realistic.
For Christian Fiction: To Win Her Heart by Karen Witemeyer, Falling like Snowflakes by Denise Hunter, Wildflower Road and Aspen Crossroads by me, Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers (look, that book had a lot of villains, okay?)
Your Turn: Who did I miss? Who are the best-written villains on stage, screen, and paper? *One commenter will win an If Lost, Return to Library T-shirt from The Love Wander Read Shop!
*Size to be chosen by winner. Must have a US mailing address to be eligible to win.
I can think of a few stinkers: the corrupt politician wannabe ex in Liwen Ho’s “A Sudden Spark”, Elizabeth Maddrey has a few exes in both love and business in the Peacock Hill series and Valerie Comer has a family member (the dad/stepdad), Declan Cavanagh, in the Cavanagh Cowboys series.
It might be an interesting discussion (or perhaps a quick, one-question poll) to discover how many readers enjoy villain characters as part of the story conflict in a romance compared to those who prefer just the emotional challenges between the hero and heroine and, of course, those who don’t care.
Personally, the persistent villain characters, the ones that continue without change, are annoying. I want my own happy ending where they are concerned, namely a comeuppance. In other genres, like thriller or spy series, the persistent villain makes sense. In romance, IMHO, not so much.
Oh, wow! I have to say the one that I still don’t like and have told Heather Blanton, the author, to PLEASE kill off is Matthew in her Defiance series! That’s not CCCR, it’s historical. The other one I really can’t stand is going to be in an Inspy author’s next book, but since she’s still writing it, I’m not even going to put her name. Let’s just say I’ve already told her I don’t like the character, don’t want her to ever get an HEA, and would like her to get her comeuppance. Most of the time, I’ll look for a redeeming quality, but in these two, nope. Just nope. It’s been so long since I read Redeeming Love, I think I need to read it again.
Nicole Santana says
First, I love this post!
Second, I immediately thought of Iago from Othello. He’s the most vile of them all cause he’s evil just to be evil. He breaks up a romance just cause he can. Sinister little man! Othello is a play I threw across the room because Iago is awful and frustrating.
Hi Janine! I love this post. Personally, to have conflict in a romance one needs some type of villain (or antagonist). Someone to stir the pot, so to speak. The order listed is the frequency that I have observed in books or Hallmark movies. The ex, then a family member (mother, mother in law, grandma, aunt – so often a female that should remain silent or out of the picture). Annoying is when the villain keeps being annoying or even tries to sabotage the romance. Then I yell, “Enough is enough.” Somebody needs to put them in their place OR the author can just write them out of the story (LOL). Thanks for an informative and fun blog. Best wishes. Enjoy your weekend.
Julie Arduini says
I learned so much about villains by watching of all things, Smallville. The way Lex Luthor was written and portrayed was masterful to me. He had a broken spirit and a very dysfunctional upbringing, and for most of the show where he was on, his true character was always just there on the surface and you never knew when he’d snap or do something generous. They wove in his backstory and the more openly evil he became, the more tortured we learned he was. It was amazing to watch and learn.
Thanks for the recs
Alicia Haney says
Hi, I enjoyed this talk about villains, and yes they are so much necessary to make a story come so alive, they keep us on the edge of our seat! Have a great weekend and stay safe.
Winnie Thomas says
What an intriguing post, Janine! You gave some great examples. They definitely liven up the stories and sometimes infuriate us! I just finished Heirs of Falcon Point, and Gunnar Sauermann definitely fits into the evil villain category.
Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre is villainous.
Amy Perrault says
There is so many. The best on paper would have to be “Baby Help” father & there are a few others.
Sylvain P says
This is awesome. I love villians like Jason on screen. In a book it’s a few but they all are good in someway.
The type of villain I hate the most is the hypocritical love rival. Perhaps it is the work colleague of the heroine who knows about the hero’s problematic past and does not stop meddling or warning she that he “does not suit her” but deep down he does not do it out of concern but wants her for himself.
Or a women wich is a close friend of the hero and is in love with him and VERY angry that the heroine appeared so she intrudes and tries to ruin the relationship while maintaining a “good friend” mask. I hate those kinds of people both in fiction and in reality.
I am not participating in the raffle I am not from the USA.
Sabrina Templin says
You have sooooo many of them i can’t think of a missed one except maybe in a Disney movie…..jealousy of a stranger or someone close to being a stranger that wants what you have? IDk you have good ones!
Natalya Lakhno says
How about the neighbor?
I think one of the worst villains I’ve read, in recent memory, was the husband of the heroine in Lulu’s Cafe by T.I. Lowe. He was so awful and cruel and the wounds he inflicted on the heroine went so deep. But I love that story because of how it all worked out and the healing the heroine experienced by the end of the book.