Saturday, March 31, 2012

Guest Stacy-Deanne: Crafting the Perfect Villain

Ever since I was a little girl I loved mystery and suspense. I remember curling up with my mother on the couch watching Dial M for Murder and being in awe of how brilliant Hitchcock was. People have often asked me why I love writing mysteries.  Well, I love being surprised as well as evoking thrills and taking readers on wild twists and turns just to shock. But one of the things I love most about writing mysteries and crime fiction is villains. Why?

Villains provide tension and move the story. They put readers on edge and shake things up. Sometimes the villain is the only reason I keep turning the pages when I read. I don’t care if your mystery is hardboiled or cozy, you've got to have an enthralling villain and villains are more than just bad guys and bad girls.

The trick to a good villain is he or she has to be three-dimensional. I’ve seen too many villains in movies and books that were just bad and nothing else. Well this is unrealistic. No one is all bad or all good. In order to make your villains shine you must create them as a persons with depth.  Making a person all bad just won’t cut it and is not an effective way to form a true villain.

Below you’ll find crucial things to remember when constructing villains.

1. Villains are Real People

The worst thing you could do is make your villain predictable. No character should be all bad or all good. You should put just as much thought into creating your villain as you do your protagonist. The most unforgettable villains evoke different emotions in readers. They make you sad, mad, and afraid and even pity them.  Norman Bates and Dorian Gray are my favorite villains. Both were crafted with depth. Norman is a brilliant character that makes the audience bleed with sympathy despite being a killer. We know he’s a bad person yet we can’t help but pity him. Hitchcock does a wonderful job drawing different emotions for this character. Dorian Gray comes off as heartless and vain and maybe he is but as we see him fall victim to his sins, it makes it harder to dislike him. Both are brutal killers but human at the same time. That’s the perfect combination for a top-notch villain.

2. Villains Have Emotions Too

Strive to show different sides of your villains the same as you would the protagonist. Show their more vulnerable and weaker sides. This helps readers to relate. For characters to be powerful we must see some of ourselves in them. Readers should be able to embrace the villain’s emotions; that heightens the impact of the character.  Maybe you’re writing about a female serial killer who chops up male prostitutes and sticks their remains in her freezer. Yet she loves animals and often leaves food for the stray kitten who wanders her neighborhood.  Maybe your villain is a man who poisoned his wife to get her money yet he loves his new wife so much he’d die before ever hurting her. Show sympathy, real emotion. This jolts the audience and keeps them on their toes. This is needed if readers are going to relate to your characters.

3. Ditch Carbon Cutouts

Think and be creative when you’re creating your villains. Come on, you’re a writer. Give them circumstances and challenges the same as you would your protagonist.  Don’t make your villains from a box of clichés.  Show what they do when they aren’t being bad. Let the reader inside the character. Say you have a serial killer. What kind of job does he have? Is he gay or straight? Does he have any kids? What are his hobbies and what does he like to do? Of course you don’t have to sit there and include all of these things in your novel but you should sit down and learn about your villains enough to be able to write them. Know them inside and out and don’t rely on their just being the bad guy to carry the story. There has to be much more than that.

The key is to always remember your villains are people too. Put in the same character development you would for your protagonist and you’ll have a page-turning villain readers will not soon forget.

Thanks Novel Spaces for having me! I enjoyed it!

Stacy-Deanne (Dee-Anne) is an award-winning novelist of mystery, suspense and crime fiction. She’s been writing professionally since she was 19 and her work includes Everlasting, Melody and Giving up the Ghost. Stacy is profiled along with notable authors in the NAACP-nominated 2006 book, Literary Divas: The Top 100+ African-American Women in Writing. Her 2011 release Giving up the Ghost was nominated for a 2011 African-American Literary Award and is a 2012 Black Expressions Best Seller. Her upcoming novel, The Season of Sin will be released April 2012 from Peace in the Storm Publishing. Read more about Stacy and her releases on her website, and find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Liane Spicer said...

Welcome to Novel Spaces, Stacy-Deanne!

Dorian Grey is one of my favourite novels ever. Wilde is THE boss. Kyle Mills is a current writer who creates top notch villains. He had me rooting for and crying over his villain in Fade.

Excellent advice.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm with you. I love a good villain and enjoy creating them very much.

Shelia Goss said...

Stacy thanks for these reat tips. I needed this reminder as I work on my new novel.

Anonymous said...

Great tips for those of us working on novels with villains. Bookmarking this for reference. Thanks, Stacy!

The Paperback Diva said...

A good lesson, Stacy. All writers need to be reminded of this occasionally. Its got me thinking of some of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everyone! Glad you enjoyed it and hope it helps those who need it.