We love our heroes and heroines, but a well-constructed villain is a truly beautiful thing. Not only do they provide the central conflict of the book, but they can create conflict within us. They can make us think doing something terrible for a very good reason is an admirable thing. They make us question our own beliefs. They might even haunt our dreams.
I went to Karen Rose's session at the RWA conference this year and let me tell you, that lady had a wealth of knowledge to share. I have six pages of notes from that session!
She said that the only two motivators for villains are Revenge and Power. Villains are the ones that really carry the story when writing suspense/thrillers so it is crucial to get them right.
She also had a number of "don'ts" to share about writing a villain.
1. Mental illness is not enough to sustain a book. There is a difference between evil and crazy. We want them to be crazy because crazy can be explained, it can be fixed and then WE can be safe. But evil is chaotic and unpredictable, which makes it much more difficult for the heroes to anticipate their next move.
2. Avoid the "they" menace. While the mob or terrorist groups do bad things, there is someone pulling those strings. Focus on that person.
3. Villains can't be stupid. In fact, they need to be smarter than our heroes and always one step ahead of them.
4. Don't have them appear at the end out of no where. Either hide their identity throughout the book or hide their motivations.
5. Don't worry about where you place the clues. Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers are all about sleight of hand. Distract the reader from the clue with an element of danger or romance or mix it in with a red herring. Just make sure the clues are there so the reader can find them the next time they read the book.
For more insight into creating villains and chilling stories pulled from real life, check out Karen's 2018 conference session, Romance, Explosions, and Dead Bodies: Writing Exciting Romantic Suspense. (Let's all just take a minute to admire that session title!) She has done a few of these over the years so check out previous conference recordings. *Note - This is probably a member's only link. If you are writing Romance, you should definitely be a member of RWA to get access to the conference sessions and other courses they offer, as well as local and online chapters. If you are not writing romance, you can join as an Associate member to get access to the sessions. You won't be elligable to vote in elections or serve on a Board but it is still totally worth it!
Tell me about your villain. What inspired you to write them? What is his/her goal?