Just Write

How to flesh out villains.

Do you have a villain in your story? Is this scoundrel executing gruesome acts? Is it hard for you to get into the head and heart of the “bad guy?” Does he or she have a heart?

Here’s an idea about how to flesh out your baddie. . . so that he/she is someone you can live with for the duration of your writing.

Do a freewrite. The antagonist was once a child. What were his/her passions as a teenager? What games did they play as children? What delighted this child? Write about his/her first car.

Choose a prompt and write as if you were answering from the villain’s point of view. Imagine you are a neighbor or a relative of the undesirable person. Write about the mean person from someone else’s point of view.

What is the turning point, or the chain of events that changed this innocent toddler into a dreadful creature?

Probably not much of this brainstorm writing will make it into the final cut, but it will help you understand this despicable creature and make him/her come alive.

Remember: There usually is a wicked character in stories. . . that’s what gives stories their heft, their meatiness.

An example is Anna Quindlen’s “Every Last One.” We meet an individual who is charming, likable . . .lovable. Then an event changes everything and everyone. Use a book of your choice as your textbook. Study how the author developed the character of the “bad” guy.

Count DraculaNo one was born bad. How did they get that way? You are the puppet master . . . create and control your characters, even the evil ones. Just write!


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  1. Ke11y

    Daniel Blake was not born a hero. Nor had he been raised to be a Spartan, a warrior. Thus had Daniel lived for a time and was happy. Indeed, all would have been well if only those less fortunate than him had not sought to destroy him, humiliate his beliefs in the justice system.

    The love that once made him brave now sought to make him afraid, and yet some voice deep within his soul insisted that love would win. Surely. He slugged down the last of the beer, its coldness hurting his throat, threw a ten-dollar bill on the counter, and stepped out into the unusually hot San Francisco sunshine.

    Difficulties, as painful as they were unexpected, forced him to leave London rather hurriedly. He left friends, his business, but there had been no alternative. The decision cost him a great deal of suffering and anxiety, at the same time leaving behind his books and clothing. He hadn’t killed anyone before. The second would be easier.

    Acts of violence usually have compassion to excuse them; an instinctive moment of madness. He acted with neither. Daniel walked neither slowly nor hurriedly on Geary Street passed Union Square. He thought deeply about his time as a child on the island, his Shetland pony, the border collies his father trained, and for which Scotland is famous. He had grown up amid the kindness of simple minded folk. On entering The Westin St. Francis Hotel he pushed the elevator button for the 30th floor. He remembered how he had put his hand on every romantic book he could find, reading veraciously till the conclusion. When he looked back, he was in no doubt that Providence had been his guide. Not only minute by minute when the early light was changing; haze becoming fog, and then haze again, mistily illuminating and running from the ubiquitous coastal trees, their branches blown like an old man’s hair. And so it was he had been led to California.

    1. mcullen Post author

      Great character sketch. Thought provoking piece: “humiliate his beliefs in the justice system.” And “He hadn’t killed anyone before. The second would be easier” = chilling detail anticipating what next? And “Acts of violence usually have compassion to excuse them; an instinctive moment of madness. He acted with neither.” I enjoy your writing style. . . calm, deliberate, careful writing. Well-done.

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