This past week we’ve looked at villains, and I have to ask: Are bad girls scarier than bad boys?
Ever since junior high, bad girls have scared the bejeezus out of me. I can’t be the only one. Raise your hand if you’d rather run into Voldemort than Bellatrix in Knockturn Alley. Raise your hand if you had to leave the room during the Peanuts Christmas Special when Lucy yelled at Charlie Brown. Don’t even get me started on Elmira Gulch.
But there’s one bad girl who illustrates my point better than anyone else. Interestingly, she is not a fictional character at all--but almost feels like one. I mean how many of us get our own nursery rhyme?
In my humble opinion, the scariest woman of all time was Lizzie Borden, and she captures everything a good fictional villain must have:
- An Unpredictable Nature. To me, there’s nothing scarier than an unpredictable person. When the exterior appearance and the interior mind are at polar extremes, watch out. Scary clowns fit into this category. So does Chuckie. But consider Lizzie Borden: a well-dressed, mild-mannered, upper/middle class, Sunday School-teaching daughter with a severely damaged psyche that allowed her to bludgeon her family and then sit down to a good book. (Allegedly.) In fact, a big part of her acquittal was the jury’s inability to match the murderous activities with the face of the person sitting before them.
- A Sad or Creepy Past. A villain without a reason for world destruction is too two-dimensional to be scary. No one knows for sure, but growing up with embalmed bodies in her basement couldn’t have been good for Lizzie. Scholars think the sexual abuse didn’t help either.
- An Arsenal. Every good villain has to have weapons at her disposal. Wands are good. Bombs are good. Lizzie Borden had a dull axe and a strong arm. Making weapons of mass destruction out of household items: scary shit.
- Speed. I was never good in gym class. Anyone who moves fast is, by my definition, scary. Lizzie Borden was fast. She was accused of chopping up her mother and father and then taking a bath in less time than it took the maid to wash the windows on the back of the house. Another reason for Lizzie’s acquittal: the jurors' belief that a woman couldn’t move that fast in heels.
- Not Afraid of Getting Caught. Remember that maid looking through the windows? Lizzie didn’t care. If the villain isn’t afraid of getting caught, she can be reckless and bold in her evil doings. In other words, if you’re writing a villain, there can be no pussy footing around. Prison be damned.
So happy writing, and here's hoping your villain gets her own nursery rhyme someday!
Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.