Our theme this month on PFHT is Villains!
It might be an indication that I need therapy, but I love creating villains. I love getting into their heads and figuring out what makes them tick. The villains in my books have included a sadistic son of a Nazi, a psychotic wife abuser, and in my current WIP, a Chicago Outfit mob boss who's something of a cross between Tony Soprano and Hannibal Lechter.
Fun! (I think I need to mention at this point that I write romantic suspense. These bad guys are definitely not love interests.)
In a recent guest blog on PFHT, CJ Lyons said a hero is, "anyone willing to face their greatest fears and be willing to risk change in order to make things better in the world around them." A villain is just the opposite - someone consumed and driven by his greatest fears, willing to take risks to harm the world around him to relieve those fears. Someone totally consumed with himself. Or herself.
So how do you create memorable, bone-chilling villains? Here are some of the top tips I've collected:
- The villain has to be stronger and seem to have more advantages than the hero. He's smarter, more cunning, doesn't play by the rules. That gives the hero the greatest challenge. If the villain is equal or less than the hero, your conflict fizzles into an anemic puff of smoke. Poof. Not good.
- Mix good and bad in your villain. (Like the Phantom, as Darcy mentioned yesterday.) Don't make a cardboard Simon Legree twirling his mustache. Make him a real person with real goals and motivations, no matter how twisted. For a while, you might make the reader believe he's actually a good guy (see the title of this post).
- Most importantly, the villain's reasons for what he's doing have to make sense to him. He has to see himself as justified, and maybe even righteous, in what he's doing. As Christopher Vogler said, the villain is the hero of his own story. Tough to do, but that's what makes it fun.
Additional advice from authors on the creep factor:
- In an article I found about Robert McKee about Robert McKee, author of "Story", there is mention of a political-science professor's thesis: “doing evil is an attempt to transform the terrible passivity and helplessness of suffering into activity.” I don't know about you, but that sentence makes me shudder.
- In her article called "The Villain's Journey" on Murderati (love that title!), Allison Brenan says: "A villain has specific goals. Murder is not the goal. Murder is the means to an end. Very few villains kill simply to kill." Great point to keep in mind.
- And according to best-selling suspense writer and the Queen of Emotion (as Margie Lawson has dubbed her), Lisa Gardner, "The truly chilling villain is a psychopath, the charming, brilliant boy-next-door." And, "The best villain goals are goals we would fight for as well." For more great advice, check out Lisa's fabulous article "The Villain: Developing the Diabolical Prima Donna" on her website: www.lisagardner.com