Yesterday’s villain was shifty-eyed, dressed in black clothes, illiterate or portrays a lack of education, hair unkempt to his shoulders . . . let’s add Snidely Whiplash’s waxed moustache.
Today’s villain is savvy, handsome, the boy next door, stylish, polite and very educated. Most likely his IQ is above average and he gets-off on his abilities to outsmart his victim(s) and the law.
Readers love guessing – playing private detective – speculating on who the ‘bad guy’ is. Thing is, we’re even more excited when he’s hiding in plain sight and we are completely surprised. He was the kind neighbor, the trusting brother, the lovely step-sister.
Bear in mind – the villain should be foreshadowed and the reader must be able to say, oh . . . yeh, I missed that. I thought he might have been the villain and I dismissed it. Never . . . never . . . never . . . have the villain be a complete surprise … the ‘red herring’ because your reader will not read another one of your books. You’re not being clever.
Our modern-day villain will appear to be trusting, endearing, even loving and making the ‘butler’ the killer just won’t hack it today. A character in the background for 180 pages and suddenly is the killer, won’t put you on the best seller’s list. You might surprise the reader, but you won’t win him/her. Disbelief will trump surprise every time unless you’ve left shrewd and even cunning clues along the way.
I’m one of those writers that usually knows who the villain is at the beginning, although there’ve been a book or two that surprised me. I start with a situation, most likely a murder and then the story unfolds around this main plot. My characters bring the story to life by their emotions and reactions.
I started my book Atonement with the villain. The first line sets the scene and tone for the book. “He bent her finger back . . . all the way back. It cracked loud and final.” The reader doesn’t know who the villain is – but they definitely know a lot about him from those first two sentences. Although we know about the killer, we don’t know who ‘he’ is.
There are times when I believe I know who the villain is . . . only to be surprised I was wrong. You see, while we write the characters take over and develop the story.
In the book I just finished, Whispering Wind, I was certain the youngest brother was going to be a problem, while his savvy older brother was going to sweep my heroine off her feet. Things just didn’t work out the way I planned. Never force who the villain is. The reader will feel it every time. I’m a firm believer that my characters will inevitably resolve any predicament or challenge I give them.
There are two ways to write the villain; one is to know from the start who he is and the other is really not knowing until the story unravels. Whether you write knowing who your villain is or not, make sure you go back and rewrite, leaving a trail of clues that reveal a believable villain at the end.
Which way is better? You must decide which works best for you and your writing style. But I might add, when you don’t know at all (you don’t really have a clue in your mind at all or you don’t have a plan – you could end up writing yourself into a corner or find yourself with chapters of rewriting before your story is believable.
Tomorrow we’ll continue – I had no idea I had so much to say about villains! J We’ll pick up discussing why ‘our villains must be special.’