In life, there is a dark and light side. It is how it goes. In fiction, that is the case also. The dark side is sometimes shown by a villain but can even be the main character-- when it's not a romance anyway. Exploring what the dark side is can be part of research for a story.
I won't be seeing the current film, Foxcatcher even though it has an interesting cast. As I have mentioned many times, when a film is about negative characters with ugly results, it's not going to be one I rent or buy. But I thought the article was particularly interesting in how the film, which is based on a book, opted to portray the motivations of the character who is clearly its villain.
In my own writing, the question always comes down to this-- what makes a character a villain? To discover that, a writer has to try to understand what makes people do bad things to other people. If the villain is an actual character in the book, their motivations have to feel as real as those of the hero or heroine, who will stand against them.
For any want-to-be writer of fiction, romance or otherwise, the above article is worth reading for how issues of plot are worked out. It deals with something I have to work through in every book because most of my stories do have a villain to represent the dark side and to show the character of the hero/heroine as they must confront and come out on top both for how they did it and for the end result of a happily ever after-- obviously real life doesn't always have it work out that way.
Why have a villain? Well, whether in a book or in life, we show our character the most clearly when confronted with something which is threatening and bad. In fiction, the hero or heroine must finally stand up (sometimes very reluctantly) and overcome the thing that would threaten life or at the least what is most important to them.
It's not hard to create a stereotypical villain, black hat, twirling mustache, and evil actions, but it takes more effort to create one who seems believable and a real threat.
I recently read another article in New Yorker magazine about the father of the young man who killed all the school children in Sandy Hook. It involved how this boy's character went to the dark side as he was growing up. In that young man's situation, he had one diagnosable mental aberration but most likely another one, one that makes most villains into what they are-- psychosis.
Psychotics put their needs above everyone else's. A psychotic does not have to be insane. They can know very well what they are doing, know how to plot, and hide it-- as the Sandy Hook murderer did. If someone is emotionally damaged in one area, being a psychotic might be what tips them over the edge or hides their nature. The book below I heard about on an NPR program as the author discussed his experience in particular with one psychotic-- one who had committed no crimes but also had no conscience.
I think there has to be some level or psychoses, whether clinically diagnosable or not, in all who brutally murder someone else with a plan in mind. We read about the man who didn't want ex- to break up with him and he goes to where she is and shoots her to death and then himself, is that normal or expected behavior? It's putting their own needs ahead of anybody else's. A lot of the men (and it's usually men) who do this have a history of abusing others and probably are psychotic. The interesting thing with this disorder is the person can seem normal in all other ways. It makes it hard to diagnose or recognize in time to avoid relationships with them.
Reading books about mental aberrations isn't the most pleasing thing to do, but it's how you take a dark character beyond shallow. If I wasn't writing romance, that character might be the main protagonist in a book; but in a romance, they never will. They might not even show up but it's the results of what they did. They represent the major challenge that a worthy hero or heroine must overcome.
Evil (a word some people hate) is not always obvious. I remember years ago when I first read People of the Lie and the author, who was a psychologist, brought out how often he would find in a family, with a member he was treating, the truly evil person was someone who had driven them there. I don't think that sounds like the case with the Sandy Hook killer, but he was enabled and not recognized for what he was in time. Psychoses helped him hide what he was inside even from psychiatrists-- although some did appear to recognize his risk.
There are reasons people do bad things to others but understanding why your villain did, that's what takes a lot of thought and sometimes requires research. For me, it's nothing I want to research in person-- although I think in my lifetime I actually have come across a few psychotics-- not all of the deadly sort. But, when I want a villain who really seems threatening, I call on what I know to be one side of human nature-- the dark side. It is not enjoyable to think that way, but it does satisfy the need of depth in stories.
If someone is writing say chick lit, it might be a parent who isn't physically dangerous but has constantly undermined the heroine. It will be something that the main character must overcome. It is the dark side, and it better be believable.