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Nancy J. Cohen | Villains

October 14, 2010



In attending various writing workshops, I’ve picked up the following tips for creating villains:

1. Give the villain his own GMC, i.e. goal, motivation, & conflict.
2. Allow him to care about something to show his humanity.
3. Have a “good” villain as well as a “bad” villain, i.e. an official who obstructs the hero’s efforts.
4. The stronger the villain, the more stalwart the hero must be to defeat him.
5. The villain may have a twisted view of the universe. In other words, he doesn’t see himself as being evil.

Here are some handy motives for your bad guy:

1. Protection of a Loved One
2. Fear of Discovery
3. Jealousy
4. Envy
5. Savior, i.e. it’s his calling to punish the sinners or save his species from annihilation
6. Greed
7. Power
8. Revenge

Sometimes we can mix and match these negative motivators. In my current paranormal WIP, I have a female villain who justifies her actions in torturing humans because the survival of her species is at stake. However, she’s ambitious and resentful that women don’t have authoritative roles in her society. So she stoops to murder to climb to a position of power.

The worse the villain, the stronger your hero appears in defeating him. So make him as mean as you can within the limits of genre expectations. For example, brutal rapes and child abduction are not acceptable in the cozy mystery genre. These would be more appropriate for suspense. World domination is more suitable as a motive in a thriller than a whodunit. If you read widely in the genre you want to write, you’ll gain an understanding of the genre conventions. Readers expect a certain type of book when they pick up a genre novel. You don’t want them grimacing in distaste or feeling your story is too lightweight for their tastes.

Viewpoint makes a difference, too. It’s always creepier if you can go into the bad guy’s head and see the warped way he thinks. If this isn’t possible, you can show his twisted perspective from his actions. Have him leave taunting notes for the detective or take a souvenir from his victims. Or have him react in panic and make an attempt on your sleuth’s life. We don’t have to be in his mind to know he could strike again at any time.

What are some memorable villains that stick in your mind?

Here’s an excerpt from Silver Serenade, my latest sci fi romance. Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to terminate Tyrone Bluth, renowned leader of Tyrone’s Marauders. Silver, disguised as a new recruit for this terrorist organization, has been taken to his lair.

“Water,” one of the prisoners croaked. “Can we have some water? My wife is with child. She is growing weak.”

“I told you not to speak in my presence.” A murderous look on his face, Bluth clomped toward the jail. “What did I say the punishment would be?”

Inside the penned area, the captives recoiled with gasps of horror. “Not our children!” a woman among them screeched.

“Sir,” Silver said, hastening to the Marauder’s side and resisting the urge to plead. “With due respect, the children can yet benefit you in the mines. It wouldn’t be profitable to waste them over such a pathetic being.”

The fellow who’d spoken cowered in a corner. With his thin frame, he wouldn’t last long as a laborer anyway. If a choice had to be made…Silver swallowed hard.

At Tyrone’s indication, the guard lowered the force field while another brute yanked out the man and his pregnant wife.

Before the energy shield had even been reactivated, the Marauder leader slashed open the woman’s belly with his curved dagger. While her husband screamed, she crumpled to the floor in a pool of blood.

The man sank to his knees, sobbing.

“There’s your punishment. Live with it for the rest of your short days. Or not.” Tyrone kicked the guy with his steel-toed boot, cursing at him, until the prisoner lay still on the ground.

Speechless, Silver watched in mute horror.

“Clean up the mess,” Bluth told his guards, grasping Silver’s elbow and yanking her away.

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