July 4, 2018

How to Write a Good “Bad Guy”

By Rachel Fordham, author of The Hope of Azure Springs

In real life I like good guys. I prefer to surround myself with people I don’t have to worry about my safety when I’m around (I’m just not that brave). But when writing. . . well, that’s another story! Villains come in all shapes and sizes and when we write them we get to put ourselves in shoes we’ve never walked in and really test our creative power. While writing The Hope of Azure Springs (which happens to be historical romance) I learned a lot from writing a man that I’d never want to have a run in with.

Three things to keep in mind when writing a villain-

1.       If possible give them a back story that makes them human. For example, readers of my debut will come to learn that my main character and the villain have quite a bit in common. He had enough backstory revealed that for a moment we feel bad for him. If all we see is bad, bad, bad our bad guys won’t seem as real. Readers will roll their eyes and groan. No one is all bad. Everyone has a story. Don’t be afraid of showing your characters. You might feel like you are doing it wrong by showing a wound, or a tender side but in reality, you are taking the time to give depth.

2.       Bad guys do bad things. I know I just said to not be afraid to show your villains good side but come on they are bad so show their vile side too. I keep my books clean but even with that stipulation it’s always my goal to make my reader cringe when the villain steps on stage. Don’t be afraid to write him doing something you’d never do. Use discretion of course but don’t be afraid to let your bad guy do evil things (if it fits with your story line of course).

3.       Every story had different plot points but if you are taking the time to create a villain with a back story and who does evil things then you need to make sure the effects of those deeds are led up to and felt throughout the story. Foreshadow coming evil. Sprinkle in clues. Once anything major happens take the time to develop or mourn what’s happened. Weave your villain and his influence throughout the story. Doing this adds to the authentic feel of your writing and helps you avoid hearing that your readers felt it was unrealistic.

The great thing about a good villain even in historical romance like I write is that the opposite of evil is goodness. Done well a villain can make the joyful, beautiful parts of the story all the stronger. And as much as I love a good villain− I love a happy ending even more.
Rachel Fordham started writing when her children began begging her for stories at night. She’d pull a book from the shelf, but they’d insist she make one up. Finally she paired her love of good stories with her love of writing, and she hasn’t stopped since. She lives with her husband and children on an island in the state of Washington. Her Social Media:

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