It occurred to me early on in my publishing life that much attention was spent on perfect protagonists and intricate plotting, while the killer/bad guy/guilty party was never as realistic. He/she had a name and place in the story – sometimes as a relative, sometimes a person from the workplace, but more often a random stranger. There was always a reason for what was being done, but rarely did we see the intricacies of a negative personality or why they took the dark road. For me, they were flat. Deduce the guilty party, arrest them and forget them. Or kill them and get it over with. I would wonder who cares about them? Does anyone grieve their passing?
So I began to look at creating that character from the standpoint of their birth. I saw them as a baby, then growing as anyone might, picturing the moments in their lives when that first wrong choice was made. No one grows up planning to commit a crime and then they do. I began giving my criminals and killers some ordinary, recognizable habits and traits that would be common to us and created MY perfect villain. The character you hate, but can also identify with a facet of their personality. So I’m sharing how I do it.
- A villain who loves his mother, visits her weekly in the nursing home and sings to her as he brushes her hair.
- A villain who has an addiction to the constant flossing of his teeth. Every time he passes a mirror, he checks to see if his teeth are clean.
- A villain who volunteers at a VA hospital and pays for the funerals of indigent veterans.
- A female villain who risks her life saving abandoned pets but is a contract killer.
- A female villain who loves to clean and spends hours in the grocery aisle looking for new products.
- A villain who is always on a diet, buying weight loss products, trying them out.
- A female villain who bakes and runs errands for the elderly in her apartment building.
- A villain who lives in a house with a year round Christmas décor because he never had that as a child.
- A villain who spends one day a week at a homeless shelter as a volunteer repairman.
- A villain who goes to the beach and builds sandcastles with the kids who happen to be there.
Thinking about a villain this way as you write creates a fully developed character to stand on equal footing with your protagonists. It gives the story depth and adds to the creativity of your work. Having a villain you struggle not to root for is a unique way of making your story one readers won’t forget.
Sharon Sala is a long-time member of RWA, as well as a member of OKRWA. She has 85 plus books in print, published in four different genres – Romance, Young Adult, and Western, and Women’s Fiction. First published in 1991, she’s a seven-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five time winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, and five time winner of the Colorado Romance Writer’s Award of Excellence as well as winner of the Booksellers Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA’s recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly best-sellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate.