Help! I’m Afraid of my Villain!

I’m really close to finishing my first book!

Well, sort of.

I have run into a bout of writer’s block and I finally realized what the problem is. I don’t want to make my bad guy bad.

I’ve been reading all sorts of blogs and books and I know this is a common rookie mistake. My first pass at this book had the antagonist simply being another good guy who had conflicting interests with my hero. Specifically, he wanted my heroin too.

Oh, and his mission was to destroy my hero’s trade.

But still, my Mr. Bad was actually another Mister Good. He decided he had to wed the heroine, against her will, to protect her reputation, even though he didn’t actually love her. He was a stuck up, stiff character akin to Daniel Day Lewis’ role as the fiance of Helena Bonham Carter in A Room With A View. He was honorable and a decorated naval officer. He was the farthest thing from bad that an antagonist could get.

But I know how to learn from other people’s mistakes and I’ve read the warning enough times to know my Mr. Not So Right will not do. So I had to go back and re-work the entire book to create a proper bad guy. A bad guy who we will all want to hate. Oh sure, he’ll have some redeeming qualities, but I now know I can’t make him so good that it becomes confusing who the hero of the story actually is.

And so, I’ve set the tone. I’ve modified the plot to prepare for his incorporation. I know what he’s going to do and how he’ll do it. I’m ready to write the chapter where he meets the heroine. She was supposed to meet him in the previous chapter, but I chickened out and ended the sequence with her on her way to meet him.

It’s been two weeks.

Why won’t it come? Why can’t I simply type out on the computer this man who will attempt to destroy the livelihood and happiness of my beloved heroes?

Last night lying in bed it, hit me. I can’t create unlovable characters. No, I suppose I can. I am just loathe to release villainy into the atmosphere. I want to adore anything I make. I need fairy tale happy endings and I hate conflict. So the bad guys just won’t come.

Anyone got any ideas on how to get inspired to create the blackness of evil?


14 thoughts on “Help! I’m Afraid of my Villain!

  1. What really clicked for me was when I heard someone say: “The villain is the hero of his own story.” I took it to mean that he has to be human, not some cardboard Bond-type villain. I try to give my villains some kind of tragic back-story so that the bad things they do come from that experience. A good excercise is to take a few villains from books or films and ask yourself why they were so compelling and believable. I’ll bet you it’s because they were human and they had their own story.

  2. I know what you mean – I had a hard time making one of my bad guys as bad as he needed to be in my first book. One tip that worked for me was really getting into my bad guy’s head – finding out what made him tick. Every villain believes he is a hero – the key is figuring out why he believes so. What makes him feel his motives are worthy, his goals important? If he wants to destroy the hero’s trade – why? Is it because the hero’s father destroyed his father’s business and left his family destitute? Is it because he only feels complete when he dominates other people and obliterates the things they love? And once you figure it out, make the reader feel it – I know I respond so much better to books where I’m shown why the villain is a bad guy and feel some empathy for him. I think that blackness of evil you are looking for is all the blacker with the contrast of a little speck of light.

  3. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say . . . does he really have to be Mr. Evil Villain? Can he just be Mr. Not Right for Her?

    What I mean is (and I know this is a shot in the dark as I haven’t read the book), he can be a fine upstanding guy who’s doing everything for the wrong reasons; we might, as readers, understand how he came to his reasoning but we’re shaking our heads at him. (This can stray into woobie territory, though — “Sure, he’s bad, but he was abused as a child / betrayed by his one true love / abandoned by his parents. He has issues!”)

    Alternately, you can make him That Guy — the one who mansplains and tells the heroine exactly what she needs for her own good, and what she needs is, by mighty coincidence, just what HE WANTS. He can make these explanations at length and with a slightly condescending or patronizing tone. Not necessarily Forged of Pure Evil, but definitely not GOOD. And annoying to boot.

    Don’t know if that helps, but the thought popped in and I love talking writing, so. 😉

      • I’ll try and think of an example . . . hmmmm. Of course, the real kicker is that if you make the bad guy a shades-of-grey sort, you have to make the good guys somewhat grey as well, otherwise they look kinda plastic.

  4. Oh I love writing a good villain!!! 🙂

    You just have to realize that he has a different objective than the hero and give him good reasons for them… He has to believe in his cause completely.

    The tough part when you’re just starting out is not wanting to torture your wonderful characters that you love! LOL But you’ve got to make them really “earn” the happily ever after. That’s where your story is in that conflict on the road to halliply ever after. If you make it too easy for them it weakens your story…

    So torture away and make a villain you can’t WAIT to have the hero defeat in the end… 🙂

    COngratulations on being so close on your book! You can do it!!!

    Lisa 🙂

  5. Hi Laura,

    I agree with all the nuances written above and add. Make sure he is a worthy adversary for the protagonist. Moriatty to Holmes.

    On the other hand, since we (I think you do) write happily ever afters* instead of tragedies (*also known as comedies to the purists) you can consider all manner of antagonists.

    I had a career challenged (bungling) mobster trying to kill my protagonist. This happened in the movie Some Like It Hot. In the finale the mobsters had trouble shooting straight and it was delightful. Check out Mary Leo’s romantic comedies also known as light hearted. They’re witty, funny, and heartwarming. How about Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

    If their isn’t much humor involved in the story the antagonist can still be flawed in some quirky way. I don’t know, just some thoughts.

    Great start to your blog.

  6. Hi Laura,
    The same thing happened to me in book 3 of my series. Luckily, the “villain’s” sister stepped up to be the actual villain of not only that story but of each book since then in the series. In the current story I’m writing the original villain will become the hero to fight his sister. Look for a secondary character that might end up being the villain, if you can find one it might save yourself a major rewrite. (And Mr Not-So-Right might just end up the hero of his own story when you write your next book. 🙂
    Sometimes it is easier for us to make a woman the antagonist, especially if, like me, you like the “bad boys.” LOL

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