Writing villains – a tip or two for young writers.

Who do we love to hate?

I look at a lot of manuscripts by other writers and try to help them make their stories stronger. One problem I often see is that the writer hasn’t managed to get a sense of tension and threat into a story early enough. As soon as possible, the reader needs to see that the bad guys are definitely bad.

It’s not enough just to say that the villains are wicked or mean or whatever. The writer has to come up with a piece of action that shows how wicked the bad guys can be. You don’t always need to see the villains themselves in an early chapter. But you need to see evidence of what they can do.

How have I managed my own villains? In The Travelling Restaurant, Lady Gall feeds something secretly to little Sibilla that makes the toddler throw up.

In The Queen and the Nobody Boy, the bad guy is Emperor Prowdd’on. In the early draft he was too much just a comic pompous figure. To make him more of a threat, I decided to have him do something really horrible then deny it was his fault: “Little Queen was very wrong to encourage me to play with faulty rodent.” It upsets the little Queen and the other main character, Hodie.

It also upsets one of the scruffy little squirrels that lives in the Grand Palace grounds. That turns the novel into a sort of revenge story. That squirrel becomes very determined to keep after the Emperor and it plays an important part in the ending.

Some writers plan the end of a novel before they start writing. I don’t like to do that myself in a lot of detail. I plan some things, but when it comes to the villain I love to see what happens as I write and hope that a good idea for poetic justice will come into my head. ‘Poetic justice’ means that the villain will come to a sticky end exactly right for their particular crimes and personalities.  Lady Gall wants to be forever beautiful … Emperor Prowdd’on is vain and greedy ….  Serve them darn well right! is what I want the reader to think in the scenes of final come-uppance.

I’ve just had great fun discovering how the villain in the third tale of Fontania fares at the end of the novel. But that’s a blog for another day.