By C. Hope Clark
We spend tremendous time sculpting our protagonist, and I tend to lean toward enjoying the sidekicks and secondary characters the most. We carefully refine the romantic interest (think Team Jacob or Team Edward in Stephanie Myer’s Twilight series). But what about the villain? They aren’t all male criminals wearing black who kick puppies and steal children in the night.
Of course, a lot depends on the genre you’re writing. With a mystery, you don’t usually know who the villain is until the revelation at the end. With suspense and horror, however, the story evolves with knowledge of the villain, with part of the story being his evolvement into his worst icky persona, and the reader’s discovery of what makes this culprit tick.
Villains are more than the bad guy. The best villains, frankly, are more colorful than the protagonist and blend easily into the story as some player you would never suspect . . . or in many suspense stories, someone you can never tie down.
To best display a primo villain in your story, one must first fully understand them. Where can you mentally go to tap into the dark side of your antagonist? After all, we aren’t familiar with that sort of mentality unless we are steeped in psychology or law enforcement. Therefore, I suggest you delve into your own inner self and see what flips your switch.
Sit and honestly answer the following questions, allowing yourself to be as devious, demented, and sick as you can. After all, nobody sees the answers except your antagonist.
- What makes your blood boil? We’re not talking someone cutting you off on the Interstate. We talking about someone who rips into your world and takes advantage of you or yours. What does he have to do to send you into an orbit you have to fight to come back from? Now, what if you’re the bad guy and someone wronged you?
- What are you desperate to protect? You know your loved ones. What if someone stole, hurt, crippled, or killed them? Or you have a dark secret you never thought would see thte light of day, but now somebody wants to shout it loud and long. Again, what if you’re the bad guy who’s had this occur?
- What makes you angry, deathly afraid, impotently frustrated? You’re shaking, crying, almost frothing at the mouth with emotion. Something rocks your world and you can no longer resume any sense of routine until whatever or whomever angered you, or scared the crap out of you, can be dealt with, because heaven knows you cannot let this disaster, whatever it is, go unrequited.
- What drives you to hostile confrontation? Most of us are not adversarial, at least not physically or face-to-face confrontational. However, we’re all capable of it if pushed so far. What inside you would drive you over the edge and spill blood on you? What would make you go so far to the point you want to hide a body that died at your hand? (And yes, you would.)
- What would make you lie or as a minimum embellish the truth? If lying preserved your world or saved something or someone you cherish, would you do it, and how well would you orchestrate that lie to make it appear the absolute truth? How far would you go to protect that lie? A lie that if revealed, would steal your livelihood, your love, your health, or your life’s savings?
- What would make you deceive yourself? What could make you tell your normal self that it’s all okay. . . after you’ve stabbed someone twelve times and tossed them in the marsh? What would you tell yourself to make everything appear right so that you didn’t go absolutely crazy with the knowledge of how evil you became?
- What would make you manipulate others? To what ends would you do to preserve your sanity, or the safety of your loved ones, or the sanctity of a religion/belief/secret?
- What could you become obsessive over? If the most cherished item, person, concept in your life was in risk of destruction, how would you obsess over preserving it? What part of your life is so inherent that you would go to great lengths to keep it intact?
- What would make you lie, cheat, or kill? Don’t say you would not. Everyone would in the right situation. Or what if you were suddenly thrown into a country or environment where their beliefs were not yours, and they endangered you and yours, to what ends would you go?
- What would you sacrifice yourself for? Deep and dark but a question almost every villain knows the answer to.
We don’t like to think we could be loathsome, despicable, or oh so poisonous, but to craft the best villain, you have to become them. I recall my thoughts clear as a bell when I read the last page of Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn: What kind of sick crazy person is that author?
If you write cozies or young adult, you might take this level down a notch. I write mystery, and while I’ve used my own exercises to mold my villains.
You have to be in this villain’s head. As the author you can use the appropriate verbiage for your genre, but in the end, this bad guy has to be just that . . . bad. And until you get to know them, you won’t pull it off to your readers.
© 2018, C. Hope Clark. All rights reserved.
C. Hope Clark
(adapted from CHopeclark.com)
C. Hope Clark was born and reared in the South, from Mississippi to South Carolina with a few stints in Alabama and Georgia. The granddaughter of a Mississippi cotton farmer, Hope holds a B.S. in Agriculture with honors from Clemson University and 25 years’ experience with the U. S. Department of Agriculture.
She is the author of two mystery series, including the Carolina Slade Mysteries, and the Edisto Island Mysteries.
She also currently manages FundsforWriters.com, a weekly newsletter service she founded that reaches 40,000+ writers to include university professors, professional journalists and published mystery authors. Writer’s Digest has recognized the site in its annual 101 Best Web Sites for Writers for fourteen years.