Friday, 12 November 2010

Create a Convincing Baddie for My Crime Novel

One of the crafts of writing crime genre is conceiving not only a superhero the reader can empathise with, but a  convincing villain the reader finds compelling. Without a great fictional baddie, the crime novel falls flat. What can the writer do to create villains that are interesting, believable and propel the crime story?

Make Your Own Super Villain

A crime story is nothing without a great villain. But some crime writers may find it difficult to create a convincing baddie that moves the story forward. The reason might be that the author might have been inspired by a storyline rather than the characters. To make the story happen, the writer may “people” the plot, simply filling in gaps with fictional human entities that move from one scene to another.

To flesh out the villain character, the following issues may need addressing:

Allowing the subconscious to draw upon stereotypes or stereotypical characteristics during the character conception stage. Examples might be that the baddie has a deep scar on his cheek, has a penchant for graveyards or wears a long trench coat. Such characteristics may have been sourced from real life notorious criminals or fictional villains from classic novels.

Not creating contrast between characters in the story. This does not just mean in “good” or “bad,” but in the body language, the dialogue used or the past the counterparts have inhabited. In this respect, black appears blacker next to white.

An audio sample of my book the Shuttered Room: a kidnapper locks a hostage in the loft. An unsavory deed, but his insecurities are revealed later in the novel.

A Great Crime Story

Not giving the villain a past or a childhood is a big mistake, and will make the actions and motives of the character unconvincing. Creating a character profile questionnaire will flesh out the villain. This may involve inventing a family background, educational history, nicknames, language used, clothes sense, disabilities or eye colour, (even if some of these details are left out of the novel). These strategies will make the villain appear real in the author’s mind during the writing.

Creative Writing Tips for Crime Writing

Making the villain’s thought processes rational given his or her past is a gift. Instilling sympathy for a baddie within the reader will make the villain more disturbing and might spur the reader ask questions about themselves and about why people do the things they do.

No one is totally good or totally bad. Give the villain some redeeming features that will make the villain more rounded. A villain that does nothing but bad things or thinks bad thoughts may make the baddie appear flat rather than three dimensional, and instill apathy within the reader.

In this excerpt in my blog novel, Nora, the heroine, Nancy actually behaves villainous. However, she behaves this way because of a past trauma, as can be seen in this scene describing displaced anger. Here, she deprives a cripple one of his crutches because she thinks he has betrayed her.

Crime Writing Solutions

Adding real depth and complexity to a baddie is possible if the writer looks deep within. Creating an emotional landscape the writer can identify with will generate a baddie the writer can really empathise with. The resultant villain’s motives and desires are better understood and ultimately help to create a character-driven crime story.

An example might be how a divorce might have impacted upon the author’s ability to make friends at school. Projecting the lonely feelings this might have invoked in the writer can be projected upon the villain albeit for a different reason, which might be a childhood spent in hostels due to poverty. Having an intimate understanding of the villain’s emotional core is the key to creating a realistic villain rather than a cardboard cut-out character within the crime novel.

Links to Further Advice on Crime Writing


  1. I am a character writer with an acute leaning to the creation of villains, and I feel compelled to proffer a little advice here, in the hope that it may be of some help.
    All the tips suggested on this page are solid gold for the budding writer, but I want to add something I consider to be the vital component when creating a Villain.
    A villain must act for the good of either him/herself, the world at large, or both. Apart from rare exceptions, which you can use as an added strike, never have your villain act purely out of evil. The villain is a character with hopes and aspirations just like anyone else. The villain is always misunderstood by everyone else. Shakespeare's Othello; the easy reading of it shows Othello as a good man brought down by jealousy. Iago sets the stage, instructs the puppet players, manipulates the characters like chess pieces, and unlike the murderer of Hamlet's father, who achieves his objective in one quick act of treachery, Iago pours the poison into the ear of Othello drop by drop until the narrative of the dream can be administered at full strength. There is a villain for you, and he does it all for the right reasons, in Iago's mind it's a job that must be done, only the audience (those within the play as well as those within the theatre) can see it as villainy.

  2. Great thoughts here. Although I have not read/seen Othello properly, It is true that the power of a villian's character (as you have pointed out in your example) is to get the audience to sympathise with him/her despite the things (they) do. Obviously getting into the villian's head to understand the motives are easier within a novel than on the stage.