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Digital Subscriptions > Writing Magazine > February 2017 > KILLER APPEAL


Where do you draw the line between appealing and appalling when it comes to creating irresistible villains in your fiction? Novelist Margaret James has the answers


As writers, readers and listeners, we’ve been attracted to – or at least intrigued by – fictional killers and other life-wreckers ever since the dawn of fiction.

But what is their appeal, and how murderous or otherwise malevolent do these people need to be before we decide there is no way we can engage with them and will be happy to hate them instead, even if they still exert a certain fascination?

Crime and other kinds of fiction are full of appealing characters who kill. James Bond, of course, is famously licensed to kill. So bumping people off is clearly part of his job description and to most readers this appears to be morally acceptable. We cheer on musketeer swordsmen who polish off any bad guys in a fair fight. Soldiers are obviously expected to kill their enemies, whoever their enemies might be, and Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe has plenty of male and female fans.

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