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About the Writer:

Sue Raines is a freelance writer and playwright. Having turned her talents to crime and mystery writing Sue has found a niche in teaching the genre. Other works include articles, book reviews and short stories published in magazines and anthologies. A member of Partners in Crime Sydney, she is also an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction.


Creating Crime & Mystery
Sue Raines

Creating A Better Villain

We tend to focus on our protagonist when writing crime and mystery fiction, today’s crime writers create heroes and heroines with flaws, people who bleed and cry when they are hurt, and who need to eat and sleep between their adventures. The modern reader wants his/her detective, whether professional or amateur, to be human and imperfect, like themselves.

Unfortunately, the same care and attention is not always paid to the villain. Writers need to believe it is as necessary for a character who only emerges in his or her true colours towards the end of a whodunnit, to be fully developed and identified.

Just as the protagonist should not be all good, the modern villain should not be all evil. In real life most criminals are normal people, at least on the surface.

In fiction, a believable villain needs to have some redeeming characteristics. Think of some of the great villains in literature and movies. What about Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs? He is a charming, intelligent and educated man, who could fool most people. Remember the dear old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace? Don't they remind you of your favourite aunt?

The trick to creating a believable (and memorable) villain is to focus on their motivation for committing the crime.

There are two main types of crime: Unintentional and Premeditated. The following questionnaire may help you understand your villain, which in turn can help you create a "better" villain.

The Unintentional Villain e.g. a crime of passion, self defense, accident

1. Why didn't he/she just confess and accept their punishment?

2. How did the crime occur? How did the villain cover up the crime?

Be sure you know how and why, even if you don't reveal it to your reader.

The Premeditated Villain (serial killers, crimes of obsession, greed, revenge etc.)

3. Is your villain outwardly normal? If so, how does he/she hide the other side to their character?

4. Why does your villain commit this crime? e.g. love, hate or other obsessions, perhaps having roots in a bad childhood.

5. Is your villain protecting someone else? Love could be the driving force.

6. Is your villain aware that what they have done is wrong?

7. Does your villain believe that the crime is justified? e.g. a revenge killing or a mercy killing.

8. Does your villain feel they deserve something the victim does not deserve? e.g. when greed or profit is the motive.

By creating a cast of characters in your story you give them life. Your minor characters also need to play an important part circulating through the world you have created adding passion and colour and providing an interesting background for the protagonist and the villain to play out their rolls. Building tension by using characters and background is good for your reader interest, they may become so absorbed they miss a vital clue to the identity of the villain.

You must understand what makes your villain tick. Do your research. Be careful if you decide that mental illness was the force that drove your villain to commit the crime. Be aware that readers will be annoyed if the villain turns out to be some deranged stranger who had no relationship to the victim. There must be cause and effect.

Generally, the reader wants to see justice done by the end of a crime story; the forces of good should triumph over evil, but a story will have more depth and interest if we allow some shades of grey. In real life crimes happen for no logical reason and readers of fiction want the answers they can't find in real life in the books they buy.

Until next time when we stroll through the pages of crime and mystery together. Keep writing.

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