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Making Your Villain: Killer Crafting

All good stories have an unforgettable protagonist, a man or woman who readers root for as they frantically turn the pages of a book. But what would that protagonist be…without an equally powerful counterpart? A villain, a character who makes readers tense, makes them worry—and makes them fear.

Villains are especially important in suspense and thriller novels.  And, of course, there are many levels of “evil” for different villains. For me, the villains in my romantic suspense novels tend to be particularly dark.  They’re twisted, broken to an extent, and when I write my villains, I definitely want my readers to be afraid of them.  

I believe that when authors create villains, they need to craft complex, multi-dimensional characters—men and women who will both frighten readers…and keep those same readers hooked to the story.  Villains shouldn’t just be card-board cut-outs. They need to be realistic individuals with motivations and needs, and they should not simply be psychotic monsters who exist for the sole purpose of destruction.

Here are a few elements that I use when I craft my killers:

1: Backstory.  When I am trying to get a strong sense of my villain, I start by creating a backstory for him in my mind. Every character has a backstory…especially a villain.  It would be easy to say that a character was just “born evil” for the purpose of your story. But…we’re writers. Writers don’t usually go the easy route. Instead, we go the route that will lead to complex, multi-leveled characters. So instead of saying that “nature” is totally to blame for your villain’s actions, show how your villain developed into the being that he or she is.  What childhood trauma shaped your villain? What traumatized him? Was he good once?  What happened to change her over the course of her life? By answering these questions, you can begin to build the backstory for your villain.

2: Strengths and weaknesses.  The next step in crafting your villain is to figure out her strengths and weaknesses. Your villain isn’t all-powerful, and when you show her weaknesses, readers can connect with her.  Everyone has weaknesses. (Kryptonite could take down Superman, right?) Your task as a writer is to determine what makes your villain weak. Learn your villain’s “soft spots”—your hero will be able to exploit those spots later.  In contrast, by recognizing your villain’s strengths, you will be able to add plot twists that capitalize on your villain’s particular talents.

3: Desires. Your villain has a reason for his actions, and by understanding the villain’s inner desires, you can set appropriate goals for that character (even if those goals include death and dangerous deeds). Perhaps your villain desires vengeance, and he will go to any length in order to carry out his revenge plans.  Or maybe he even has a very misguided sense of justice. Once you figure out why your villain is on his path of destruction, you can see what goals he will achieve.

4: Point of View.  For me, including a villain’s point of view is always an exciting part of my book. By including the villain’s point of view, writers can steadily build up the tension and drama in the book.  I’ll confess…I actually most enjoy writing the villain’s point of view. When I am in my villain’s point of view, I’m able to go dark—very dark, in the sense of the character. Please keep in mind that the villain’s point of view will be very different from the hero’s POV or the heroine’s POV. The villain may see the world from a skewed perspective, and that skew should carry over into the POV.

5: The end.  Writers shouldn’t be afraid to take risks as they come to the end of their stories.  Villains can push the boundaries of your book. They can startle readers, they can terrify—and they can throw a most wonderful twist in for readers. Just because the pages are coming to an end, it doesn’t mean that your villain should fizzle out. By keeping the villain strong until the very end, you will be able to maintain a fast and frantic pace for readers.

Good luck crafting your villain. I hope he or she is a terrifying success.


USA TODAY best-selling author Cynthia Eden has written over 20 novels. She writes tales of romantic suspense and paranormal romance. Her stories have received starred reviews from PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY, and her novel, DEADLY FEAR, received a RITA nomination for best romantic suspense. Cynthia’s latest release, DIE FOR ME is a dark and sexy romantic suspense…with a very twisted serial killer.

More information about Cynthia may be found on her website or you can follow her on Twitter.