Building a Villain
When I had finished the initial draft of my manuscript, I sent it to a friend (a beta reader in a way). I knew I needed some help, and I also knew this particular person was someone who would actually read the darn thing.
He got back to me several weeks later and kindly pointed out some inconsistencies and some misconceptions, things that I honestly did not recognize. Perhaps the most important element he discovered was that all of my characters were too nice. It wasn’t so much that they were all nice, but rather that the book completely lacked a villain. That fact hadn’t occurred to me, and I knew he was right – a psychological suspense novel certainly requires a bad character or two to make it interesting. Sure, I had antagonists of a sort, notably an evil spirit and the mental anguish of the protagonist, but I knew now that I needed more.
I sat on the manuscript for a few days, wondering how I could bring a true antagonist into the fold. Introducing a new character out of nowhere seemed a bit intimidating. So how could one of my present characters become a villain? The answer soon came. In the first chapter, my protagonist Spencer becomes acquainted with the owner of a B&B in Dublin named Mike. That character Mike was initially a nice guy as well, but I thought perhaps I could turn him. I maintained Mike’s amiable disposition, but at the very end of that beginning chapter I added a slight twist to make the reader believe that the innkeeper had a sinister side.
Still, a problem remained: Mike is in Dublin and Spencer would spend the rest of the book in another part of Ireland. How could I possibly keep them connected? Problem solved: I’d simply give Mike an accomplice of sorts, an old friend and sometimes business partner who did Mike’s bidding.
So, enter Owen. He operates near where Spencer is spending his time, and Mike enlists Owen to carry out his nefarious plan. Mike is a bad man in his own right, but I knew I needed to take Owen to a higher level, someone who has no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to get what he wants. He needed to be as loathsome as possible, someone the reader would love to hate as the story progresses.
Owen doesn’t get a ton of page time in the story, but enough to make him an integral character. Without him, the story could never reach its climax. His methods and intent know no bounds, and his first and last direct meeting with Spencer offers a heart-pounding scene. (Thank goodness for a little Irish dog that saves the day.)
Just when the reader’s disdain for Owen can’t be any worse, I thought it appropriate to send him off in the most unceremonious of ways. Writing the demise of a character is never easy, but I doubt there are few readers who would disagree that Owen receives his just deserts. Mike gets his as well, but in a different and less profound way. And Spencer, a rather sympathetic protagonist, eventually benefits from his ill-fated association with Mike and Owen.