Thursday, April 25, 2013

It's the Little Things-- Writing Convincing Villains

Okay, so I know I've written several different posts about villains and how to craft convincing ones, but I wanted to go into a little more detail in this post because I have read several books lately (not to name names) that have had unconvincing villains in them. Whether it was that they just didn't come across to the reader as evil as the characters in the book seemed to think them, or they lacked a purpose. It comes down to two things really: Number One-- Show, don't Tell. And Number Two-- It's the Little Things.

We'll start off with purpose.

A villain doesn't always need a reason to be evil, but he does need a reason to be doing what he's doing. Even psychopaths usually had something in their past make them do what they do. Sometimes that's not the case, but we're not talking about psychological thrillers here, we're talking about normal villains. The villain's reason for what he's doing needs to be made clear to both the reader and the author. I know how hard it can be sometimes to get an answer from our baddies on why the devil they're doing what they're doing, but you cannot expect to finish a book until you know what that is. Whether it's that he has an old vendetta with the hero, i. e. the hero got the girl way back when and the villain is holding a grudge, or perhaps the villain he power hungry like Napoleon and wants to take over the world (though that is a very overdone story line, it can still work in some ways, or on smaller scales. These are just examples.) The villain is put in the story to cause conflict for the hero, so he has to have a reason to do so, before you can figure out the plot and what your hero is going to do about it. Let me say again, as I know I have before, the most important character in any story is, in fact, the villain.

Now we'll move on to how you can create a convincingly evil villain.

I've already talked about how to make villains that might not be all bad, so today I'm just going to focus on making really nasty ones. This is where the "show, don't tell" and "little things" come into play. So often I have seen authors (again not to name names) rely on huge displays of evilness to display the fact that their villain is "so evil". Or make him so cartoony that you can't take him seriously. I love a cliche villain, but there's a place for them, and even then, they can really just come across as silly if not written right. You have to establish a villain that the readers knows is capable of all he says. Someone who will make you shudder when the hero has been captured because you know your favorite guy or gal is actually in danger.

I have read books where characters are always going on about how evil the villain is, but readers never see it.  I don't want to HEAR how evil this guy is, I want to SEE him demonstrate something. It might not always be pretty, but you want to have a convincing villain you might have to do something nasty, even something so horrible as kill off an innocent, or a child if this fits your villain's modus operandi. This will let the reader know this is one serious bad guy, and will make them cheer all the more when he meets his demise. Another thing I personally like to do even though it's a little cliche, is have a scene where the villain tortures one of his men or another minor character. This shows what could possibly happen if the villain gets a hold of the hero, and builds anticipation in the reader, especially if your main characters are captured.

Of course, it doesn't always have to be something so drastic, remember the little things. It could be a nervous twitch or a creepy smile, but you shouldn't always rely on appearance either. Small actions such as a villain invading a character's personal space, playing with a blade, that sort of thing. And who isn't creeped out when the villain sets his sights on the heroine? Or, even creepier in my opinion, when the female villain sets her sights on the hero *shudder*. And instead of having your villain monologue (unless of course, that's just his character) Just have him use suggestions of what he will do. We all know that when the imagination is left to it's own devices, things are so much worse.

The subtle villains are always the creepiest in my opinion, the ones you never know where they will pop up next, or what exactly they are capable of. Never put all a villain's cards on the table at once, otherwise, the reader will be bored with him after the first half of the book. Always save something for the climax in the end. Something the reader won't expect, and maybe you won't either.

I hope this post might help new or even old writers create a more convincing villain. What do you think are the scariest aspects of a good villain?

Slainte, Hazel


  1. Dittos! And what has happened to the villain that is just plain good at bluffing? He may not do what he threatens, but there's something about him that makes the hero think that he's perfectly capable of doing it, and said hero doesn't want to find out if he'll do what he promises.

  2. Hmm, good question! Usually we have bluffing heroes, but I really can't remember the last time I read a book with a bluffing villain.

    1. And the heroes aren't usually good at bluffing - at least, not anymore.

    2. Especially not the heroines. Girl characters always seem to be terrible at bluffing (Unless they're the baddies, oddly enough). Though Fisk does a pretty good bluff, Sir Michael on the other hand, not so much ;)

  3. Brilliantly said, Hazel!! I have often thought the same thing!