Bad Boys, Watcha Gonna Do? (Crafting Your Villain)
One of the most satisfying things I’ve found about writing a novel is the scenes involving the bad guy–the nemesis of my protagonist. And it’s also the most difficult, because while I want him/her to be truly memorable, I don’t want a two-dimensional figure that just exudes nastiness for no particular reason.
I don’t want Cruella DeVille, who is memorable more for her fur coat and horrible hair than anything else. I don’t want Dr. Evil, memorable because he is hilarious. Which of course he’s supposed to be, but he in himself could act as a tutorial for how not to write a villain.
In my first book, the main character never even met one of my villains. She was affected by his shenanigans, surely, but he existed out of the plane of her existence entirely. And it worked. At least my readers seem to think it did.
In my second book, the villain is very much hands-on with the protagonist, so it is a different scenario. And hopefully that works too. The issue with a good villain is not how or where they act, so much as why. What caused him to become this way? “Born this way” only really works for Lady Gaga. Your villain must be human, real–she must have a reason for her actions. The reader must understand the motivation behind the evil, even if he cannot accept it.
A good villain may be likeable. The idea that all villains are sociopaths with no empathy is a trope that, in my humble opinion, is played out and rarely works except in superhero movies. And even then there was a reason Lex Luthor was the way he was. He didn’t just go about slinging kryptonite for no reason (except maybe that Superman looked stunning in his tights)–he had a personality.
Find out the “why” of your villain. If you’re writing a mystery or a thriller, the top reasons for murder include revenge, money, and greed. A romance villain can suffer from jealousy. Any of these can be the kernal for the backstory of your villain. But you can’t just name the motive if you want a three-dimensional bad guy–you have to give him a backstory if you want readers to get on board. Make him believable, even sympathetic.
It’s not easy to do, because usually the villain is seen through the eyes of your protagonist. I do it in part with separate chapters written from the POV of the villain, but there are other ways. Just find a way to get his story out there.
And here’s a thought–while you’re getting rid of the idea that your villain was just born bad, tell us what he was like before the defining moment that turned him. What changed him? Did his mother die and leave him a victim of the system? Did his buddies lead him into a “no turning back” situation that ruined his life? Whatever you choose, flesh him out. Give him a personality with more than one dimension.
And remember, in one of Agatha Christie’s most memorable novels, the villain was the protagonist. Now that’s how to write a good bad guy!
Around the Site
The much anticipated Downton Abbey movie is almost upon us. It opens on September 20 in the US, but I will be watching it on Opening Night in the UK, at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Scotland.
In honor of Julian Fellowes remarkable work and in the spirit of dialogue between characters from two different worlds, I invite you to press that widget of the girl reading under the covers, and discover My Guilty Pleasure – Fan Fiction.
I got my start by writing alternate universe stories about Lady Sybil Crawley and her chauffeur, Tom Branson. I created a world where Sybil lived and they could be together, because that’s what FanFic writers do–they fix things that went wrong for their favorite characters. Click on the link and enter another world…you won’t regret it.
Links for Writers
What Makes a Good Villain? https://jerryjenkins.com/what-makes-a-good-villain/
5 Tips for Writing Superbad Villains https://www.thecreativepenn.com/2017/07/05/5-tips-writing-superbad-villains/
How to Create a Villain Readers Won’t Forget: 6 Tips https://www.nownovel.com/blog/how-to-create-a-great-villain/
6 Ways to Write Better Bad Guys https://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/6-ways-to-write-better-bad-guys
Love is A Rebellious Bird, by Elayne Klasson
“A surprisingly complex and realistic love story delicately narrated by an endearing protagonist.”
M MacKinnon’s World
I’m in Scotland for the month of September! Back in Inverness, my happy place, and ready to chase down some new ghosts and legends. Meanwhile, I have about fifteen copies of The Comyn’s Curse to sign and drop off to people who helped out with the book as well as locales and venues that were featured. With the exception of the Tullach Ard distillary, all the places in the book are real. (I’m sorry if you’ve been looking for Lachlan MacKenzie’s wonderful whisky on your store shelves! Really.)