Advice from the Archives: How to Write an Effective Villain

This week’s Advice from the Archives is off the desk of Elizabeth Mazer, Associate Editor for the Love Inspired Program.

 

Romantic suspense writers are amazing. The way that my fantastic Love Inspired Suspense authors balance compelling characters, fast pacing, strong conflicts, terrifying danger, deep faith and sweet, satisfying romance into each story never fails to impress me. Writing a good romantic suspense story isn’t easy, but when it works wow how it dazzles. How can you make that happen for your story? There’s plenty of advice I could give about where to focus your efforts, and yet the first thing that comes to mind might surprise you. It’s not the hero, the heroine, the setting, pacing, level of danger, intricacy of the plot…

It’s the villain. I am a champion of those poor, underappreciated bad guys—those immoral killers, those conniving tricksters—and you should be, too. Show them more love! Give them your time and attention and watch how they flourish, achieving whole new heights of wicked villainy.

Honestly, the villain is the heart of your story. He (or she! or they!) makes it all happen. In your mental plot party, the hero and heroine bring the warmth, the charm, the strong sense of duty and gradually blossoming love—but the excitement and adrenaline-rush don’t step through the door until the villain arrives, complete with gunshots and heart-stopping danger.

As well as you know your protagonists, that’s how well you should know your villain. What are his goals and motivations? What is he willing to do to get what he wants? What’s standing in his way? And how does every action he takes play into his grand scheme?

Imagine a heroine sees something she wasn’t supposed to see, and bolts before the villain can stop her. Once the villain tracks her down, what does he do? Does he send her a threatening note? Why would he do that? He doesn’t want her on her guard, he wants her oblivious so he can sneak up right behind her. Warning her would defeat the purpose—and might make her go to the police, who could get in the way of the villain’s plan. So don’t start your story with a threatening note—start it with the heroine waking up in the middle of the night to someone breaking into her house. Start it with her discovering her car brakes have been cut. Start it with a gunshot that comes out of nowhere as the heroine’s first hint that she’s not safe anymore.

Or if you want something more complicated, maybe the heroine knows some info the villain badly needs—something only she can tell him. Will he try to kill her? Nah, she can’t tell him anything if she’s dead. Will he threaten her? Maybe…but with what? Death? Killing her is a no-go and scaring her with almost deadly situations could lead to her accidentally dying after all. Could he hold one of her loved ones hostage? Could he blackmail her with the threatened exposure of some past secret? Could he trick his way into her trust, manipulating her into thinking he’s trying to help her find the culprit of the attacks he planned himself? Before the story even starts, your villain needs to be asking himself these questions—and finding answers that get him everything he wants.

That’s the fun part of villains—they have a plan. Whether they want to steal an inheritance, cover up a murder, orchestrate a smuggling ring, or take over the world, the villain knows what he needs to do from the start. Villains aren’t reactive—they start the ball rolling and keep it rolling. While the hero and heroine are dodging bullets and wondering what on earth is going on, the villain is giving an evil laugh and telling his hairless cat that everything is going according to plan.

Dig deeper into your villains, and watch the story fall into place. Once you know how your villain has decided to threaten/attack/connive his way into what he wants, you’ll know what your hero and heroine are up against. And with those high stakes and ruthless plans in place… the party begins! Questions? Thoughts? Villainous plans you’d like to share? Leave a comment! I’ll be checking in to reply.

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