Snape & Nellie Olsen: Creating Characters We Love to Hate

This morning, my son and I finished the 3rd Harry Potter.  This is my second go-round with the series, and as much as I’m loving them all over again, my biggest joy is getting to watch my 7-year-old experience these wonderful books for the first time.  Among the many voyeuristic and maternal pleasures in this, one of my favorite things is seeing how riled up he gets over Snape.

You can see it in his eyes, or in the way his hands curl up every time Snape deducts points from Gryffindor.  Oh, the injustice!  Yet at the same time, it’s obvious how much he revels in his hatred of Snape.

It’s the same theory by which the kooky loudmouth inevitably gets invited to the party, in hopes that his presence will breed solidarity among the rest of the (well-liked) guests (or at least give them something to gossip about).

I tried to a find similar literary example from my own youth and came up with one from television instead.  Nellie Olsen.  In case you’re not familiar with LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, Nellie Olsen is the banana-curled 1870’s version of a mean girl.

To this day, the sight of those perfect blonde ringlets make me want to shove the girl down the steps of Olsen’s Mercantile.  But alas, Nellie Olsen is no longer a little girl, and also, she’s a fictional character.   For years, LITTLE HOUSE was my favorite show on TV, but much as I loved Laura Ingalls, hating Nellie Olsen was half the fun.

My point is:  you can’t create a great villain without having great affection for them.  Whether they’re simply annoying and cruel (Nellie Olsen) or truly evil (Hannibal Lecter) if your villains don’t get your blood boiling, they’re not doing their job.  And just like in real life, where the people who get under our skin just so happen to be the ones we resemble most, good villains embody many of the same flaws as our heroes.

No wonder I hate that damn Nellie so much.

Published by hilarywgraham

TV writer, screenwriter, author

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