“How Bad Is Your Bad Guy?”

~ by Mercy Pilkington

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...It seems like every great book needs one. We need a great bad guy, a real bastard (or bitch, as the situation warrants) that we can love to hate. It could be the guy the cops are racing against the clock to bring down in a thriller novel, but in a middle grade novel the villain might be just a third grader who has better stuff in her lunchbox than the main character and who shoves our hero down on the playground every day. Either way, we gotta have a great nemesis.

And we want to watch our bad guy fall down, too.

One of the biggest mistakes I read from authors who are trying to incorporate a really great villain into their storylines is that all too often, the bad guy kind of doesn’t do it for me. Whenever I have a problem with the villain in an author’s story, there are usually two ends of the spectrum: either the bad guy is just more of an “annoying guy” than a super villain, or the bad guy is so deplorable that he makes Hitler look like the president of the ladies’ garden society. There has to be a balance, and our bad guys need a couple of things.1)      Backstory – I have to know why the bad guy is so very bad. If you don’t define him and give a reason for his actions (even if they’re stupid reasons), then you’ve reduced him to a criminal who is just trying to see how long he can get away with it. The news headlines are full of stories about people who go on crime sprees for no reason other than they were bored. I don’t need more of that in my entertainment reading.

2)      Sympathy – Just like with backstory, there has to be some reason I’m reading about all the horrible things this guy is doing to your characters. Think back to Snape in the Harry Potter series… even though he wasn’t technically the villain, he sure was a jerk. It wasn’t until five books or so into the series that we find out why Snape had it in for Harry, and it involved something that we could all identify with, namely, schoolyard bullying. It made me care about Snape, instead of comparing him to all the teachers I’ve ever had who just got off on hurting children.

3)      Resolution – even if you’re writing a ten-book series and you finish each installment with a cliffhanger ending, the bad guy has to get his in the end. Preferably on fire while the beaten and bruised heroes look on, roasting marshmallows over his burning corpse.

Whoever your villain is, he can make or break your book, mostly because he’s going to drive the actions and reactions of your main character. If he’s a nobody, your MC is going to be flighty and bored. If the villain is a mega destructor, your MC is going to be unbelievable because the MC hasn’t collapsed from exhaustion due to trying to stop him on every page.

Villain AttacksBut the perfect villain brings tension and suspense to the story, and ultimately, a great resolution that shows off your storytelling ability.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Mercy Pilkington is the CEO of Author Options, a full-service solutions provider for authors and publishers. Her sense of humor leans a bit to the sarcastic side, hence her overuse of the word crap. She is looking for romance titles that do not involved chiseled men with giant penises, and no more vampires unless there is something stunningly different about them that doesn’t involve sparkling.  www.authoroptions.com

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