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The Art of VILLAINY ~ Making Realistic Villains for your Fiction ~

"People will do far more to Avoid Pain than they will to Seek Pleasure."
-- CIA Profiler Gavin DeBecker on Human Nature

True Predators
When I craft a villain, I go out of my way to make darned sure that my fictional villains are as realistic as the villains we face in real life. I begin by giving them ordinary human Issues.

Within every villain (fictional and non-fictional) there's a human issue at core that drives them to BE villains in the first place. Even mass murderers have reasons (however twisted) for doing what they do.

NO villainous action is RANDOM.

The victim may be randomly chosen, but the action -- no matter how twisted -- always has a reason behind it. That reason is ALWAYS driven by a very human issue triggered by an unfulfilled and essential human need.

Key Human Issues:
    * Desire for Connection
    * Fear of Loss
    * Fear of Rejection
    * Desire for Recognition & Attention
    * Fear of Ridicule & Embarrassment
    * Desire for Approval
    * Desire for Control

"Is there a specific pattern to how a Villain, a human predator operates?"
YES, there is!
-- Let's begin with a list of the most common  pattern of personality traits found in your average psychopath:

    * Glib and superficial
    * Egocentric and grandiose
    * ! Lacking in remorse or guilt
    * Deceitful & manipulative
    * Impulsive
    * Thrill-seeking
    * Lacking responsibility
    * Emotionally shallow

List acquired from Predicting Violent Behavior by Psychiatrist John Monahan

Most people have a few of the above traits in lesser or greater degree, however the key trait necessary for a true human predator is "Lacking in remorse or guilt." True predators have no compunction about what they do, or to whom they do it.

Choosing a Victim
-- When a predator chooses his prospective victim, four questions go through his mind:

   1. "Do I feel Justified in committing this act?"
-- It can be as simple as feeling that they have been provoked, as an act of revenge, to as complicated as looking for an excuse to start an argument to validate an angry response.

The truly dangerous predators do what they do because they WANT to. In fact, justification for their actions usually comes after they've already chosen their victim.

  2. "Are there Alternative ways to get what I'm really after?"
-- Seduction and manipulation into being given what they're actually after is usually the first technique they try. Violence is normally a technique of last resort, unless committing an act of violence is their actual goal.

   3. "Can I deal with or discount the Consequences of my actions?"
-- Can they successfully hide the evidence of their deeds? Do they have support from others, such as in a mob scene or a gang situation where everyone around them is committing violence too? Do they have some form of protection that will shield them from repercussions from their actions, such as extremely clever lawyers? Have they been hired specifically to commit acts of violence, such as being part of a military unit or the police? Are they so far above reproach that no one will believe they are even capable of committing such an act?

   4. "Do I have the Ability and/or Opportunity to commit this act?"
-- Do they believe they can successfully carry out the deed?

Once a predator feels that he has satisfactory answers to these four questions the next steps are these, and commonly in this order…

Forced Teaming
-- This is the projection of a shared purpose or experience where none exists. It is a sophisticated manipulation technique for establishing false trust, using a "we're all in the same boat together" attitude.

Key phrases include the word: "We"
* "Both of us…"
* "We're some team…"
* "How are we going to handle this one?"
* "Now we've done it…"

The most effective style of this technique plays on the victim's sympathy and makes the victim WANT to participate. "You'd do the same for me."

This style of manipulation is very difficult to rebuff without being rude -- which is precisely why they do it.

Charm & Niceness
-- Charm (verb) and Niceness (verb) are manipulation techniques used to compel, and/or control through allure or attraction. A smile is the Number One most typical disguise used to mask emotions, and intent.

These two techniques are used specifically to gain much of the information they will need to evaluate and then control their prospective victim.

Too Many Details -- that mean nothing.
-- This is a manipulation technique a predator uses to convince their victim that they are harmless and familiar. What they are doing, is overwhelming their victim with nonsense chatter in order to get physically closer.

-- This is a manipulation technique where the predator labels their victim in a slightly negative manner, to induce the victim into acting the opposite just to prove them wrong. "You're probably too rich, too pretty, too important, too proud, too much of a snob to talk to me."

The instant the victim snaps back, "No I'm not!" they've placed themselves squarely in the predators hands.

Loan Sharking
-- A manipulation technique where the predator deliberately does the victim a favor specifically to place the victim in their debt. "Let me help you."

The proctor buys a pupil ices
And hopes the boy will not resist,
When he attempts to practice vices
Few people even know exist.
-- Edward Gorey

The Unsolicited Promise
-- A manipulation technique designed to convince the victim that they are trustworthy.

"I'll just walk you to your doorstep and leave, I promise."
"I won't hurt you, I promise."
"I'm completely harmless, I promise."

Discounting the word "No."
-- When this word is spoken by the victim, the predator's immediate response is to use every manipulation technique in their arsenal to convince the victim in that they don't really mean "no", up to and including, ignoring the word outright. This is to gain back their momentary loss of control over the victim's actions.

A predator may use only a few of these techniques or all of them, but the target result is to manipulate their victim into a corner which the victim feels they cannot escape -- such as inside the victim's home.

My textbook for crafting realistic villains:
The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker…

Sympathy for the Fictional Devil
As far as I'm concerned the author SHOULD sympathize with the villain, that's how you GET true depth of character - truth in their characterization, actions and speech - but the Viewpoint Character and the Reader, should NOT sympathize with the villain too much, unless you intend to redeem the villain, or cause massive angst to your main character – and your readers.

Fair Warning: Too much sympathy for the villain drives the reader to think that you intend to save him -- and they get royally pissed when you knock him off.

It has happened to me!
-- My test readers totally misread a story I was in the process of crafting and assumed that the Villain was the Hero! Because of this, they vehemently protested his upcoming demise! To satisfy my readers I had to cut the whole second half of the book off and write that villain a whole new story where he WAS the hero. When I rewrote my original story, I had learned my lesson. NO ONE complained when I killed the villain that time.

"Murder your Darlings!" ~ Hemmingway
Under normal circumstances, if I accidentally craft a Redeemable villain, but redemption does not serve the plot -- I DON'T save him, I rework him to be less sympathetic, and then I kill his butt to serve the plot and the premise. To me STORY comes first.

But, if I really, REALLY like this character and want to save him regardless of the story in progress, I do save him – in a Whole Different Story. I leave his character intact but change his name, tweak his history and then craft a whole New story around him to do just that - redeem the villain.

The Villain's Point of View...?
HELL NO! Don't Kill the Thrill ~ Damn it!

I never, ever, EVER put my villain's Point of View into a story -- unless the Villain is the main viewpoint character.

Why Not?

The villain's POV KILLS the surprise. It gives away the punch-line before the joke is done. The villain's POV has a tendency to reveal too much, such as their MOTIVES, and answers too many questions that ruin the Mystery for the reader, such as "Why is this happening?" Once the reader  knows what's really going on, where's the surprise?

I don't know about you, but I want my readers to be as surprised as the viewpoint character when they get to the end of the story and finally discover why the Villain did all those dastardly deeds.

Ew, I remember doing this a few times in my older stories. .__.;; I did it once in my most recent stories, though only hinting ideas at first to what was possibly going on in the villains' heads, hell, even sometimes giving an idea to the reader that something might happen and then have the villain go an entirely different way due to the circumstances.

In my older stories, I pretty much spilled the whole plot of what the bad guys planned to do. God, am I glad my newer villains aren't quick to give away a plot, even if I DO pull a small POV of their point of view. A word of advice for villain POVs, if you ABSOLUTELY HAVE to do a villain POV, do it from the (possible) lackey's side of the story. Worst comes to worse, they know MUCH less than the actual villain's ideas, opening up a possible window of either clues or ideas to what's going on. It can keep the reader guessing, if done right or give away the entire plot, if used too often or explained too much.

If there is no lackeys to exploit the above, you're better off just avoiding villain POV completely, unless it's to get into character. And even that is a gamble because the past can also expose plots. X_x

--  Arctic-Master

"But other published authors do it!"
-- Yes, there are a number of NYT bestselling Suspense and Romantic Suspense authors that hide the Villain's more revealing information by cutting the reader off as soon as the Villain has an interesting thought or view. *caughTomClancycaugh*

They're CHEATING the reader using a rather nasty technique known as "Illegitimate Third Person POV", something actual Mystery writers wouldn't be caught dead doing.

However, I suppose such poor suspense techniques are to be expected from Suspense novels as they are technically mystery-flavored novels, not true Mysteries, the way Futuristics usually have very poor world-building as they are science-fiction-flavored, not true Science-Fiction.

When the "Point of View" is done correctly, whatever that viewpoint character knows - the Reader knows. EVERYTHING that is in the POV character's head is revealed as it is seen and felt. If that POV character looks at it, then the Reader should see it too. If that POV character thinks it, then the Reader should be aware of it - that includes SECRETS!

On a personal note, I refuse to read books or stories written with "Illegitimate Third Person POV", because if "I" can write suspense scenes without cheating, and I'm merely an erotic romance author, THEY CAN TOO! (Freaking lazy-butt writers... Grumble, grumble, grumble…)

"But I thought the Villain's POV Increases the Suspense?"
Um…No. The Villain's POV KILLS the Suspense.

-- Because while one might think suspense is being generated by the reader knowing that the main viewpoint character is in extreme danger (when the POV character doesn't,) what it actually does is Totally KILLS the Impact when the main viewpoint character finds out how much danger they are actually in.

It's like someone whispering, "I'm gonna yell 'boo' in that kid's ear."

When you see the kid jump, you might grin, but did YOU jump?
Why not?
Because you weren't surprised. Why should you be? You KNEW it was coming.

Someone yells "BOO!" in the ear of the guy sitting next to you – without any warning.
Do you jump then?

The REAL way to keep suspense going is by presenting CLUES about the villain and his nefarious plans to the main POV character - and the reader - by behavior, dialogue, and discoveries.

"But I need it for the Plot!"
If the author can't write the story WITHOUT including the Villain's POV, then it's very possible that there's a deeper more serious flaw in the story.

The Author has focused on the WRONG main character.

Instead of the Hero and Heroine (semi/uke) in the lead, the Villain is leading the book. If the villain is leading the book, then it's time to rethink the plot. Seriously, redo the whole thing giving the villain the lead, writing it from the Villain's POV from beginning to end. I know LOTS of readers who love a good book entirely from the villain's POV!

In Conclusion…
When one is writing Villains, once should know how Real villains think and act -- but that doesn't mean your Reader should know what's going on in their heads. More than half the fun of a really good Villain, is guessing what they'll do next!

Quote added with Permission from ~Arctic-Master

DISCLAIMER: As with all advice, take what you can use and throw out the rest. As a multi-published author, I have been taught some fairly rigid rules on what is publishable and what is not. If my rather straight-laced (and occasionally snotty,) advice does not suit your creative style, by all means, IGNORE IT.

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I somewhat like this... Villain’s POV is okay, as long as it describes unrelated stuff and isn’t worded in a way that instantly spoils it (eg: direct quotes worded straightly, breaking the 4th wall). Better example: Villain’s POV after it already happened, Foreshadowing, and Don’t Try This at Home message from Villain.