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January 29, 2008

Building a Villain

Playing to Win, the very first book I wrote is a romantic suspense. I’ve written many different genres since then, but one thing remains true. I love to add a suspense element and if I can sprinkle the odd body or two between the pages, so much the better.

Although a villain is essentially a secondary character in a romance, he or she needs just as much work during the creation process as the hero and heroine. There’s a trick or two I’ve learned to make a credible villain. I thought I’d share:

1. A villain doesn’t have to be really evil and horrid. The villain in a romance might be an old girlfriend, a brother or sister, a mother-in-law or the man living next-door. They can be a meddling friend who is trying to match make. You don’t need a high body count to make a villain. Villainy comes in many forms such as the ex-girlfriend intent on regaining the hero’s interest.

2. When you’re thinking about your villain, give him good points as well as bad ones. Make him three dimensional. If he’s a well-rounded character then he’s actually scarier because we, the reader, come to like him or we might see part of our own character in his makeup and empathize.

3. Think about having your villain mirror your hero or heroine actions. Give them a similar conflict but have them behave in a different way to solve the conflict.

4. Give your villains a good reason for behaving in the manner they are—in other words, good motivation for their actions.

5. Make use of the setting to enhance the villain i.e. cold or stormy weather or late at night. Every bit counts!

6. Take as much care when choosing your villain’s name as you do when picking a name for your hero and heroine. A good name can help make a villain.

How do you like your villains? Subtle or in-your-face? Who is your favorite villain in fiction? Are there any characteristics you like to see in a villain?


  1. Amy Gallow

    No villian believes themselves to be a villian, they just see the world from a different angle to the hero/heroine (whom they would describe as villians).

    A good(?) villian is often heroic in their own light.

    One of mine was a little hard of hearing and thought the rest of the world whispered disparaging things about him, just out of hearing. He performed several heroic feats, turning them to dross by his simmering resentment of the world.

  2. Paige Tyler

    I did your tag!


  3. Wylie

    Great post, Shelley. My pet peeve is when I read about a villain who is ridiculously OTT. Then I find him/her laughable and can’t buy into the story. You’re absolutely correct when you say that a villain should have good points as well. Heck, how could they get through life to this point if they were just THAT EVIL?!
    One of my fave villain/hero’s these days is Dexter. Have you seen the show? It absolutely amazes me that the writers could turn a serial killer into a sympathetic hero. Excellent example of seeing a character from both sides.

  4. Shelley Munro

    Good point, Amy, about the villain not believing he’s bad. That goes back to motivation as well. We give him a good reason for behaving in the way he does and make him believe in what he’s doing.

    Great, Paige. I’ll come and visit :grin:

    Thanks, Wylie. Yes, I think that’s particularly so in aspiring author books – OTT villains. Actually, not just villains but other characters, too. I’ve heard all of you mention Dexter. No, we don’t get Dexter down here. Is he on DVD?

  5. Tempest Knight

    You know, I was reading a chapter on villains recently. This post of yours adds a new dimension to what the author of the book was saying. Thanks for posting this! Gives me something to think about. ;)

  6. Shelley Munro

    I’m glad my post helped, Tempest. :grin:

  7. Estella

    I don’t have a preference about villians—they just need to be well written.

  8. Lucinda

    I’m glad you posted this, because I’m writing my first suspense. Good info.

  9. Shelley Munro

    Estella – I hear you. All we readers ever need are great, well-written characters we can believe in.

    Lucinda – great :grin: I look forward to reading your first suspense.

  10. N.J. Walters

    I always have to reign myself back or my villians are over the top…or should I say, my editor reigns me back. *g* God bless her!