I like to visit sites where writers go to give and get advice. There are many gems to be had when the inner editor becomes bold. On one such message board, I saw a question posed about writing a bad guy that was just too nice. I thought about it and decided to add my own comments on why it is not only acceptable to have a “nice” bad guy, but may also be the best kind of bad guy:
Being nice is one of the best characteristics for evil characters. They manage to disarm the reader and other characters with their manner and can often attribute getting away with so much for so long because of their “nice” personality. Hannibal Lector is a gentleman no matter who he is speaking with, but when the time comes to face his dark side, no one is ever prepared. Think of Psycho, Khan, or Moriarty. All evil. All from different genres and all “nice”. The best part? They are all exceedingly memorable in the end. We don’t recall the endless villains from years past who would twirl a mustache while threatening to close down an orphanage. However, we do remember the well spoken Hannibal explaining how he ate a man’s liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.
Don’t concern yourself with the niceness of an evil character. Let him be as nice as possible. Allow him to cry at the opera. Let him help an old lady across the street. If it’s a female character, let her give her all for the sake of others even to the point of seeming frail. When no one is looking or the circumstances call for it, reveal who resides behind the mask and in that moment the story becomes that much more intense. Readers will immediately go back and re-read what was written before just to see how perfect the mask was and kick themselves for not seeing the signs sooner.