If you could sit down to a meal with your favourite villain who would choose and why? As a writer of suspense novels, I am always reading about and researching that infamous “bad guy.” So, who would I pick to share a meal with? I’ll get to that shortly. First, let’s discuss how to create a villain your readers will love to hate. Sounds like a cliché I know, but after all, we do want our readers to like our characters…even the bad guys…enough to buy our books.
Count Dracula, Hannibal Lecter, Lord Voldemort are some more infamous villains in literature. They may be as different from each other as night and day, yet readers are drawn to them. In the case of Dracula, that book was first published in 1897 and there are still movies made about him today. This character has captured the attention of readers for well over a hundred years. I feel this is because there is something with which the reader can relate and in Dracula’s case he is a likeable antagonist. How do you not like a guy who is polite even towards the man who causes his demise? Besides, Dracula is simply looking for love and companionship. Aren’t we all?
So when it comes to crafting your villain, think about what made him or her become the bad guy in your book.
A childhood issue like bullying or a traumatic life event such as a job loss or the death of a loved one are some simple ideas that a reader can identify with and even think “Yeah, that happened to me too” or “I might have done the same thing.” In my book, Silent Rage, I wanted the reader to like my bad guy, so I went all the way back to his childhood and wove a story detailing events that ultimately caused Russell to become a killer. When a reader tells me “I liked Russell” I feel a sense of literary accomplishment because my written words made the reader feel sympathy for my villain. People didn’t want Russell to go to prison, but they certainly understood why he killed. Now my challenge is to take the reader from that love of Russell to a hatred for the guy and hope he gets what he deserves. I do that in Deafening Rage, which is due out this Spring.
By now you’re probably thinking “I get what you’re saying but how do I do that?” It’s not as hard as you think so here are some steps to follow when you are creating a villain: (please note I use him generically and if you have a female villain as I do in my third book, just mentally substitute she/her etc.)
Give him a personality flaw that people can understand. A temper because someone picked on him as a kid and as an adult it just sets him off is one example.
Describe that flaw with actions like a clenched fist, or a nervous tic when you put your villain in certain situations. This is the “show the reader don’t tell the reader” part of writing that can be challenging. For example, your villain wants to be a part of a family so maybe he spies on unsuspecting people and as he observes them he has an unconscious reaction of opening and closing his fist or if you have a female, she may cross her arms and rapidly tap her fingers. Make it a characteristic everyone has done at some point in their lives. We’ve all beat our fingers on the steering wheel in traffic and not realized we were doing it at first.
Explain how he got the flaw. Don’t just say “he walked with a limp,” rather explain how he was injured as a child and the repercussions that meant.
Let your reader know what the villain wants. In other words, why is he your villain and why is he committing these crimes? Don’t simply have a bad guy, explain what he is after. Is it power as in he wants control of someone’s wealth? Is it love? Is he jealous of something or someone his personal enemy has and he wants to destroy it?
Background information on your villain is important. Don’t forget to weave his story into the pages of your manuscript.
These are a few tips to get you started. If you are having a mental blank page moment, try jotting down some ideas about your villain. Start with physical characteristics because the reader does need a mental picture. Then continue by writing one or two words of where you want him to go. Do you want him to become a serial killer, rob a bank, steal a fortune? He has to start somewhere so a word or two about his first crimes will unfold the paragraphs you will need as you progress.
So, circling back to who would I sit down to dinner with? Dracula, of course. How could a girl refuse a dinner invitation with such a suave and debonair guy? Manners go a long way in winning over the heart of another. Plus, he’s handsome and wealthy…we’re talking total package.
I hoped you enjoyed these tips and if you are crafting a villain, I look forward to reading about him someday.
Guest post by DE Funk
All the ideas in this post are mine. I am sure there are a million more and you probably have some to add.
Check me out at defunk.net and follow me on social media.
DE Funk is a southern crime writer. Her debut novel, Silent Rage, won the Best Suspense award at Killer Nashville 2019. Check out the Kirkus Reviews on it here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/search/?sf=r&q=silent+rage