by Janis Patterson
I like villains. I have to watch myself when writing and make sure the villain is not more attractive, intelligent and believable than the hero.
Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it has something to do with the aspect of danger a villain exudes. I’ve always liked the bad boys. No – not the scruffy, unshaven, semi-clothed bad boy of some romance fiction; while I realize they are very popular I don’t care for them at all. They all look as if they don’t smell very well. My favored bad boys own tuxedoes, dance well, probably are very knowledgeable about wines and are capable of anything to get what they want.
And therein lies the essence of a villain – they will do just about anything to get (or protect) their desire without respect to laws, rules or morals. Whatever it is that they want depends on them, and it does not have to make sense to us. Some person will kill to ensure that the secret of their great-grandmother’s infidelity remains secret just as easily as another will commit all kinds of mayhem to gain ownership of great riches or yet another will kill to protect his freedom.
So – in order to create a believable villain you don’t have to worry so much about what is at stake, but what it means to them. It has to be more important to him than anything.
Another thing is to be sure that your villain is a well-rounded human being – unless you want the old straight from a melodrama mustache-twisting, blackhearted Snidely Whiplash. One dimensional characters are too obvious – they never work and they are unworthy opponents for your sleuth. The idea of any person committing crimes, especially if it involves considerable risk to themselves, for the abstract concept of Evil belongs in cartoons. It can and has been done, but to my mind works only when the villain is a certified loony-tune. In most mysteries the villain isn’t known until the solution, so you don’t want your bad guy being obvious from the beginning, which means he has to blend in with the rest of your characters. And therein lies danger… at least for me.
Like I said, I like bad boys and have to keep a tight rein on the story to keep them from taking over the story. No matter how hard one tries to keep the hero from turning into a Dudley Do-Right of perfection and yet still keep them both real and interesting, villains are automatically (for me at least) much more nuanced and believable.