The heroine usually becomes clear in my head right from the start of a story. It’s easy to focus on them, creating characters we’ll love, in pursuit of their happily ever after. But what about the characters we love to hate? What about villains?
It’s important to spend as much time crafting your “baddie” as you do your main character if you want them to rise above the moustache-twirling, cat stroking, world domination, evil genius stereotype. For this reason I always give my antagonist a point of view.
So what can you do with that point of view? Getting inside the psyche of your villain offers so many opportunities for your story.
Villains are Heroes
Every great antagonist is the protagonist of their own story. In their mind they are the hero, they are doing the right thing, doing what needs to be done. Their goals are honourable and their means are justified. They are a necessary evil if they want to succeed. Anyone trying to thwart their efforts is their antagonist, and they must be defeated at all costs.
Writing with this in mind can really help to build a multi-dimensional character. No matter how wicked or cruel I make my antagonist, they are never truly evil – at least not in their own minds…
Villains are Human Too
I want my villain to be just as human and compelling as my lead. Giving them a point of view helps me to flip the story so my villain is also someone you hate to love. Describing the narrative from their perspective can give the reader unique insights into their character. My goal is to make readers relate to the big bad evil in some way, as I believe this not only increases the fear factor for the main character, but also the reader.
It can be tricky to create empathy for someone who is overall evil, so I try to write them as real people with many of the same admirable characteristics as our protagonist. They are complex personalities capable of moments of kindness and empathy. Unfortunately beneath the surface these traits have been twisted toward darkness.
Villains Are Motivated
My villains all have reasons for being the person they have become. They weren’t always bad. A point of view enables me to conjure a credible back story for them and offer the reader realistic motivation for their unyielding quest for chaos.
They aren’t just doing evil things because they are evil – they can be real people to whom terrible things have happened. Their pasts have shaped and moulded them, created bitterness and anger, and become their excuse for their actions. They want revenge or to avenge, and their ambition to do this is what makes them antagonists. It’s what brings them in to conflict with the lead.
I don’t want readers to make excuses or forgive them, but I do want them to consider how we are all potentially capable of taking our trauma and turning it in to something that takes us down a darker path.
Villains Are Always Present
I not only want my villain’s presence to be felt everywhere the protagonist goes but I also want the reader to feel this too. I want them in the villain’s mind. At every turn I want my lead to feel the aftermath of their actions, however big or small. Their existence is what’s driving the story and escalating the tension. If my lead is scared or unsure, the villain needs to be right there, elevating their fear and twisting their doubts.
I want to reach a point in the story where it would be dangerous for my heroine to not take them down and I want the reader to be screaming for that to happen. They are a powerful force, impeding my lead in their own quest for happiness, and they must be stopped. The villain’s point of view in this cat and mouse game is such an important tool when building suspense towards a final showdown.
And Sometimes, Villains Are Your Next Door Neighbour
For a villain to be taken seriously, they need to be a genuine threat. Imagine a point of view from someone who is masquerading as an important person in the protagonist’s life, whilst also plotting their downfall?
This is my favourite type of villain to write. It brings a whole new level of menace. They might not achieve their overall master plan in the end, but being close to the lead allows them access, which means at some point they will have a win or two.
What’s more frightening for readers or our main character, than discovering the villain is a family member, the person across the office, their next door neighbour, or even their best friend.
If you want your villain to worm their way in to your reader’s minds, you need to give your reader the same opportunity. Though that might mean as a writer, that you have to dig in to your own villainous dark side…
Originally from Northern Ireland, Wendy is an Army kid with a book full of old addresses and an indecipherable accent to match. Now settled in Scotland, Wendy loves to explore the country that inspired her writing in between travelling to as many new countries as the calendar will allow. Find Wendy’s books here.