Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tip for Tuesday

Today's tip is about Villains.

We love to hate villains. One of my favorite new shows is the FBI drama Criminal Minds. I've been watching reruns on ION television, and I started watching the new shows on Wednesdays on CBS.

The premise of the show: A group of FBI agents called the Behavioral Analysis Unit fly around the country and track down serial killers/violent criminals using profiling. One interesting thing to me is that though these criminals are sometimes sociopaths, more often there is usually some inciting incident in their lives or some experience they've had that sets them on the road to evil.

Which has me thinking about the bad guys in our fiction. We often spend lots of time with our heroes and heroines examining their backstory and their motivations. But what about our villains? Why are they the way they are? What is it that they want, and why do they want it?

We need to remember that there are very few true sociopaths (thankfully) in the world today. If you talk to many who might be considered villains, their behavior is, to them, rational, necessary, and only a means to get what they want.

Today's tip is: examine your villain's motives and make sure he's a well-fleshed out person. Give him a reason to do what he does, and give him some softer characteristic. My current villain is one by accident. His jealousy led him to do something that had far-reaching ramifications that he never intended. But once on this road, he can't seem to stop the avalanche he's started, and eventually, that one initial act will be his downfall.

Question for you: Are you creating believable villains? What tips do you have regarding writing bad guys?


  1. Great tips! I don't think I really have anything to add, except maybe that even villains have favorite ice creams, books and shows, so make sure to show that part of them too.

  2. The bad guys in the book I'm editing make me sick to my stomach, and yet I feel deeply sorry for them at the same time. Still make me sick to my stomach though.
    ~ Wendy

  3. That's one of my favorite shows! We always watch the reruns now cause either I can't stay up late enough for the real one or something else I love is on.
    I agree about the villians. They are rarely all evil.

  4. I always love the reminder to make sure our villains have a reason to do the things he/she does. Make the reader feel sorry for the villain, yet scared at the same time.

  5. Good tip about showing the softer side. I always think of the example of a murderer who has a dog that he loves more than anything.

  6. I love Criminal Minds, too. Thanks to the reruns (A&E also airs them), I think I've seen most of them. I usually can't watch them alone, though!

  7. Hmmmm....that's a great question, and I'll definitely need to put more thought into it. The bad guy in my current WIP occasionally shows a "softer" side, but maybe not enough. Good tip to keep them from being one-dimensional.

    BTW, I read a book once called The Sociopath Next Door. Great read for anyone who wants to dig into the psyche of the bad guy. Scary thing is, they are more common than we might think {insert shudder}

  8. A good example of fleshing out the villain is in the musical WICKED. (I don't recommend the book if you prefer to see things through Christian fiction filters.) :-) But think about it. When you read or watch the Wizard of Oz, who do you love to hate? The Wicked Witch, of course. But how did she become so hateful? Why was she mean? Why was she evil? WICKED, however, tells the story of Galinda (Glinda the Good) and Elfaba (the Wicked) when they were teens--before Dorothy ever shows up in Oz. I don't want to ruin it for anyone who hasn't seen the show, because if you haven't, YOU'VE GOT TO GO!!! But I will tell you, by the time you leave the theatre, you've wanted to slap Glinda more than once and you've cheered for Elfaba and you've cried for both of them. And you've learned that the good aren't perfectly good and the bad aren't perfectly bad and they can actually learn from each other. And maybe the bad are really longing to change.

    Now that's a fleshy villain! :-)

    (Can you tell I loved that show?! Worth every expensive penny!)

  9. Great tip! I love a fleshed out villian. I sort of roll my eyes when I get to those predictable cardboard bad guys.

  10. I do the same character research for my villain as I do for my hero/heroine--interview, character bio sheet, and GMC.

    Of course, there's always something that comes out in the writing, though.

  11. Since I write young adult fiction, the "villain" is often the main character's best friend, or another close friend. What helps me is to think, "Why did they become friends in the first place? What made them stick together all these years?"

  12. Criminal Minds is my FAVORITE show!!!! I'm in agony already waiting for September and the season hasn't even been over a week yet.

    Wicked is amazing. I have the cast recording but have yet to actually see it. The music is incredible and just from it you get a real sense of the characters and their motivations.