Write #Villains: 10 Tips for #Writing Bad Guys Readers Luv 2 Hate @AdriennedeWolfe #writetip

I love, love LOVE villains!  What could be more fun than booing Darth Vadar?  Throwing popcorn at Dracula?  Or covering your eyes when Leatherface revs up his chainsaw?

The ultimate fiction experience – be it a book or a movie – is one in which the reader gets to emote.  Sure, when you’re writing a novel, the story is supposed to belong to the hero.  But let’s face it:  writing villains is just plain FUN!  Villains get to whine, bellow, curse, and lie.  They get to steal candy from babies, tie damsels to train tracks, and lop off the heads of cute little Padawan Learners.

Heroes aren't nearly as much fun.

One of the first rules of writing is to keep a reader interested.  In matters of characterization, you’ll achieve this feat by making the character Complex, Interesting, and Memorable (CIM).  

If you think about villains from a writing perspective, you’ll find that the most CIM villains aren’t purely evil.  (Just like the most CIM heroes aren’t purely good.)  A great way to achieve the CIM distinction is to give your villain some redeeming characteristic. 

Granted, in some storylines, you’ll have to dig pretty deep to show that your villain isn’t hopelessly bad.  For instance, in the movie, Rob Roy, there isn’t much to like about the character, Archibald Cunningham (except for Tim Roth’s performance in the role.) 

Cunningham is as despicable as a villain comes:  he murders the hero’s best friend.  He rapes the hero’s wife.  He does repulsive things to serving maids.  The movie-goer in me was SCREAMING for Cunningham to die in that movie.

However, I’m also a writer.  So I looked long and hard for some glimmer of goodness that might redeem Cunningham – or at least make him Human.  (There wasn’t much, believe me!)  Finally, I found it.  The passage was so short, that if you had blinked in the movie theater, you would have missed it: 

Cunningham reveals a locket that he keeps under his tunic – a locket from his mother. 

(Aw.  Ain’t that sweet?  Our Scottish dastard is a Mama’s boy!)

The good news is that CIM villains keep your reader turning pages.  So putting a little extra work into the development of your villain’s persona is well worth the effort.  You’ll enrich your reader’s experience.

Let’s look at 10 more tips for writing a villain that readers love to hate.

1.  Give your villain a protagonist who is worthy of his evil genius: 

The last thing you want to do is write a hero that your reader hopes your villain really will whack!  Stupid, cowardly, syrupy heroes deserve to be knocked off.  So be sure you’ve pitted your villain against a worthy foil.

2.  Give your villain a sense of humor:

It can be ironic. It can be sarcastic. It can even be slapstick. But if you make the reader laugh – especially against her will – she can’t help but turn the pages.

3.  Give your villain bumbling minions:  

What better way to work up reader sympathy for your villain than to show him as a long-suffering martyr, who has addlepates for cronies?

4.  Give your villain a touch of class: 

Make him suave, dashing, charming – the ultimate sociopath!

5.  Give your villain a weakness:

Maybe it’s a physical characteristic, like a limp. Maybe it’s a personality flaw, like a gambling addiction.  Maybe it’s a psychosis, like the fear of spiders.  But whatever that weakness is, be sure that it shows your villain’s Humanity.

6.  Give your villain a rotten childhood: 

Readers (especially female readers) love to sympathize with the bad boy who has a “legitimate” reason to be bad.  The trick here, of course, is that your villain can never mature enough to see the error of his ways.  Since you’re writing commercial fiction, your bad boy must be punished before the end of the book. 

7.  Give your villain a broken heart: 

Who can’t relate to a spurned lover?  (Heck, some of your readers might even root for your villain to get his revenge!)

8.  Give your villain something to love: 

Voldemort had Nagini, the snake.  Blofeld, the head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (James Bond movies) petted a white cat.  If a world menace can love an animal . . . well then, surely he can’t be all bad!

9.  Give your villain a superior intelligence: 

Think “Lex Luthor,” Superman fans, or “Moriarty,” Sherlock fans!  No matter how smart your villain is, ultimately his arrogance, his minions, or his rare miscalculation must cause him to slip up, so the hero lives to save another day.

10.  Give your villain a code of honor: 

Maybe your villain would never lie in a church.  Maybe he can’t bring himself to steal from a war widow.  Maybe he gives $500 tips to waitresses.  Whatever code of honor you invent for your villain, be sure that your hero can turn it to his advantage – without making himself look like a heel in the process.