Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Villain

Everyone loves a hero (or heroine), but today I play tribute to the villain - that character who we can't get along without.

If you don't have a villain, you don't have a story. Someone has to be turning your protagonist's world upside-down - and who is that? It's your villain. There are all types of bad guys out there - there are the ones who are trying to achieve something, those who are trying to get something, and those who are just plain mean.

Take a moment and think about your villain. What do they want? What is driving their actions? As actors say "What's my motivation?" No one is bad just to be bad. Even twisted serial killers have their own reasons for perpetrating their crimes. No matter your genre - there's a villain. It can be a character trait of your protagonist's that they need to overcome. If you're writing a murder mystery, your villain might just be your victim. He's always there, twirling his metaphorical moustache.

I've written all sorts of villains - I've written murder nights where the victim is so unbelievably evil, it's a miracle they haven't been killed off years ago. I've written amoral murderers who just simply want what they want and have no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to achieve their goals. I've also had villains that weren't evil - simply people caught up in a bad situation.

I enjoy reading books where the villain is within the protagonist. Driving ambition can be a wonderfully villainous characteristic. So can be the need for perfection, or for approval.

So today, give your villain some love. After all, you wouldn't be writing if he didn't exist!


  1. Your villain should feel he's the hero of his own story.

  2. I'm reading The Mistress of Rome right now and it has an amazing villain. I love reading her chapters more than the protagonist!

  3. Stephanie; Sometimes villains are just more interesting. I'll put this book on my TBR list.

    Karen; You will. Wait and see.

  4. Sometimes my favorite villain is the main character's inner demons. Sometimes when I write mysteries, the killer isn't the worst of the problems, and I like it that way.

    Great post.


  5. Villains are everywhere, even in Romance books and memoirs. Where we writers be without them?

    Straight From Hel

  6. Elspeth - My favorite villains are those who aren't "pure" evil. I like villains who are more complicated than that - the kind where the reader can say, "Well, at least I understand why ___ committed the crime." That's not easy to do, but that's my kind of villain. Of course, it's cathartic when the most villainous person ends up being the victim. ; )

  7. Ann; So do I.

    Helen; Nowhere. They're everywhere. Bless'em.

    Margot; I find that type of villain rather dull. Give me someone I can relate to - even a little bit. But yes, killing off someone despicable is ALWAYS fun.

  8. This is the very hardest part for me--motivating villians mostly... I have a really easy time thinking NAUGHTY, but a pretty darned HARD ONE being evil... My first book this ONE point held me up a solid eight months. I've decided I need to go there far earlier, or I meander all over the place.

    Maybe the answer is to write a book from the villians perspective just to LEARN it. Very good reminder!

  9. Never thought about loving my villains before, but you are so right – where would writers be without them.

  10. Excellent post, Elspeth. I needed to read something like this before I dive back into Draft Two.

  11. WT; That would be an interesting exercise - very Agatha Christe!

    Jane; Bless their hearts, we need them. They can appear in so many different guises. The Enemy Within and all that.

    Carol; Thank you! Best of luck with Draft Two. I've lost count of mine.

  12. Villains are so much fun. In one ms I wrote a scene once every bunch of chapters from the villain's pov. The rest of the book was 3rd p-pov. His was 1st p-pov. So much fun :)

  13. I love a strong villain. And you're so right that there are many sides to a villain. Everyone has at least one redeemable trait. Those are sometimes the most frightening. Great post!

  14. My villains think they are the "good guy"

  15. Is this the guy from the "Bullwinkle" show? I used to love those cartoons!!

    My murderer is usually someone really ordinary who gets desperate. :)

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  16. I love villains! They are so fun to write, and my protogonists are never more interesting than when they allow a bit of their dark side to show.


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