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How to Develop Villainous Characteristic Traits in Your Writing

By Sheila C Skillman

An effective fictional villain has, to my mind, one essential characteristic. The villain should build up in the reader a passionate desire for his or her comeuppance. If the novel ends without one, or the villain is allowed to triumph, that makes for a profound sense of dissatisfaction in the reader.

So how do you as the fiction writer build up this strong emotional reaction in your reader? Fundamentally, you need to show the main protagonist, your hero, striving to attain the storygoal, and constantly being undermined or threatened or endangered by the subtle, invidious workings of the villain. Within classic story structure, this kind of subtle hostility then builds up to violent attack, death traps, and the blackest of black moments for the hero.

A villain is one who exploits, manipulates, betrays. A villain is utterly self-seeking, wreaks havoc in the lives of others, and destroys without pity. But a villain may take the form of a hostile environment; adverse political or economic circumstances;  a psychological state; or an inner demon. Your villain may appear as a pious, moaning, self-appointed martyr; or a religious hypocrite (the Bronte sisters excelled in portraying those); the true villain can be not the one who actually does the evil, but the one who lurks in the background creating the conditions for the evil to germinate and thrive and flourish. The joy of fiction is that this kind of villain may be brought out into the light, and be exposed. The tragedy of life is that this kind of villain often goes undiscovered and unpunished.

But we fiction writers often do ensure that our villains get their comeuppance. Charles Dickens sets up poetic justice for Fagin and Quilp; J.K. Rowling brings Lord Voldemort to his final downfall; Wilkie Collins arranges an ignominious end for his Napoleonic master-criminal Count Fosco. Of course there are the fiction writers who supply the exceptions that prove the rule. For Thomas Hardy, perhaps, the pitiless gods are the villains; they are the ones who bring Tess of the d’Urbervilles to a tragic end. And do they get their comeuppance? No. Nevertheless, Hardy brings all his novels to a satisfying conclusion; and there is much to be learned from a careful study of his outcomes. Why does a tragic end satisfy us? We look at all the elements of this; and it turns out that there is a deep level of meaning present. What we abhor is a vacuum. We always seek meaning. Sometimes a story with a beginning, a middle and an end supplies that meaning in itself. And just seeing that pattern, recognising that meaning, can supply the same emotional response as the comeuppance of the villain.

S.C.Skillman is the author of exciting new psychological thriller novel “Mystical Circles”. Reviewers have enjoyed the “intense psychological drama in a beautiful setting”. You can buy the book on Amazon and through the Kindle Bookstore, or visit the author’s website to find out more, and click the secure payment gateway to buy a signed copy at []

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