Guest Post. Handy hints on developing a villain over a series.

I am delighted to welcome my cyber buddy Charles Yallowitz, author of the long running fantasy series, Legends of Windemere, to talk about villains. Legends of Windemere is a seriously epic series – 9 books and counting. But as well as writing lots of excellent books Charles runs a great blog; plenty of thought provoking posts, interesting news and lots of chat in the comments. I thoroughly recommend you have a look at it, here. But do read the article first won’t you? Which reminds me… over to you Mr Yallowitz.

The Lich by Jason Pedersen

The Lich by Jason Pedersen

First, thanks to M T McGuire for allowing me to write a guest post. The question posed was about character development over the course of a series. Legends of Windemere, my fantasy adventure series, has six books out with a seventh on the way. So I get asked about this area a lot since I’m also very character driven. I always go on about the heroes, so this time I’m going to give a few tips on how to develop a villain in a long series.

  1. Give them a few scenes in each book, but don’t overuse them. Each appearance should have an impact to either the story or the villain. Appearing too often can weaken their influence over the reader and develop them too quickly. For example, I use my villains at the beginning to set up their end of the story. After that, they appear maybe every 2-3 chapters for brief scenes or confrontations. The latter is typically saved for the second or third act depending on what the outcome will be.
  2. Henchmen and secondary villains help fill out the opposing side of an adventure. These characters can be around for one or two books then be eliminated. You need to give them a reason for being with the bigger enemy, but it can be very simple. Money, bloodlust, fear, or any base wants can be used. A character like this only needs enough personality to do their job and be a threat. Not saying you can’t evolve them in a short time, but keeping it simple prevents them from growing too big. Unless that’s what you want, which means see #1.
  3. Very few villains are pure evil. Those that are have to be used sparingly and will have an issue being in a long-term series. Give your villains some longevity and depth by giving them a ‘good’ trait. It can be a delusion that they are right, a soft spot for something, or a personality trait that one typically finds in heroes. For example, the Lich in my series is an undead necrocaster and definitely a creature of darkness. Yet he demonstrates a loyalty to his master that rivals the heroes of the story. It doesn’t make him a good guy, but it does make the Lich a deeper villain.
  4. Going too evil can shorten your villain’s lifespan. In a series, the bad guys have to create multiple plans and make several attempts to kill the heroes. Each one has to be either equally or more evil than the last. Otherwise readers might think the bad guys aren’t trying any more. You still have to be careful if you have a few more books to wring out of the character. So if they do something so horrible that it can’t be topped then you will have trouble keeping them going for much longer. For example, I have a villain who starts off pretty bad with wanting to ‘break’ one of the female heroes. He was going to go for a while, but he began as a real monster. As the first few book progressed, he got worse and worse. I tried giving him a time out for a book, but it was too late. This villain had to either be removed for me to keep the story going.
  5. The heroes shouldn’t be the only ones to get new toys and abilities. Villains that run longer than one or two books should get some type of upgrade. New weapons or spells or a powerful new henchman can be introduced at the beginning of a story. After all, if the bad guy keeps losing then it’s a pretty smart bet they’ll try to upgrade themselves to, at the very least, stay on equal footing with the heroes.
  6. If you’re going to have a villain turn good then set the groundwork a book or two beforehand. The intensely loyal henchman shouldn’t have an abrupt change of heart after following orders for several adventures. It’s not realistic and comes off as the author wanting to save the character since most villains are killed by the end. Have your potential turncoats demonstrate the ability to be good just like a traitorous hero will show a sign or two of being bad. Have them doubt their path or reveal that they weren’t always a villain. Plenty of methods to make sure this isn’t a plot twist out of nowhere.
  7. Multiple villains can help flesh out the entire group because they will play off each other like the heroes. You can include scenes where these characters discuss plans or take an interest in the life of their comrades. There should always be an edge to it since these tend to be distrustful people, but they are together. Having everyone in their own corner and planning to betray the other villains can get silly.
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51 Comments

Filed under General Wittering, Good Advice

51 responses to “Guest Post. Handy hints on developing a villain over a series.

  1. Reblogged this on Legends of Windemere and commented:
    Hey! Another guest post of mine. I’ve been busy. 🙂

  2. Thanks for hosting me. Had a lot of fun. 🙂

  3. I’m glad to see a post dedicated to “baddies,” as they are often the least-developed characters. And yet, a good villain can do wonders for your story (I’m reminded here of the deliciously evil Sheriff in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).

    • Ah yes the Sheriff was uppermost in my mind when I wrote my villain. It’s so true though, a proper bad guy is great fun to read and write.

    • I would say the villains are more important. Without them, the hero has no challenges or even a reason to do anything. I mean, what kind of adventure would Luke Skywalker have if Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine weren’t around?

      • An excellent point.

        BTW, I was watching Midsomer Murders (a fine British production). The latest episode features a priest and a young man named Luke. At some point, Luke turns away in anger and flees the church.
        “Luke!” shouts the priest after him.
        “I’m your father,” I add, and Electra rolls on the floor with laughter.

      • Ouch. People really can’t resist doing that. I shouldn’t talk since I’ve been really tempted. Though you do meant Luke’s father at some point, so I guess I didn’t make it.

      • No, I meant that the man is a priest, hence Father… 😀

      • Got it. I meant just using the phrase in general. Good twist on it though.

      • Heh heh… Father… Man, I kill me…

      • Really good point. I love baddies because they are completely liberating to write and also because after a few books you get to fry them. Mwah hahargh! I also love it when a bad guy is just bad from one person’s perspective so they can seem bad and then our MC gets a bit more understanding and the baddie understands the MC and suddenly he’s a dark, evil, brooding goodie! Yeh!

      • Good points. Though does one always have to fry the villain? What if an author simply had them defeated and not killed? That can bring in some interesting final battles.

      • I think, in the case of the villain I’m thinking about, he definitely needs to fry. Others, yes, they do deserve to live to fight another day! 😉

        Cheers

        MTM

  4. Great advice, Charles. I especially love the advice about giving the villain an upgrade. That’s something I need to keep in mind, though my villain will only last through two books.

  5. Excellent advice, Charles. Thank you. I’m wishing you both a good day, MT and Charles.

  6. I love a good villain. Most of mine have been of the corporate variety, or the system itself. The few times I’ve given the villain a face it was fun to write. Great post Charles and M. T.

  7. Kev

    I keep seeing this Legends of Windemere pop up on all my fav author sites… now I’m getting seriously drawn in. Mm. 😀

  8. Nice thought, Charles: How do you manage to stop yourself becoming too attached to your baddies? (A serious problem I’m having….)

    • Mwah hahahrgh me too. I completely love mine!

      Cheers

      MTM

    • Thanks for the reblog. That is a challenge, but I always remind myself that they’ll have to fall at some point. A villain can lose his or her punch a lot quicker than a hero because people expect the hero to last longer. This is the reason I use a group of baddies. I can eliminate them as the series progresses. So far I’ve killed off a few of them and all but one had a bittersweet feel too it. Honestly, I ended up getting some liquor and toasting the deceased.

      Maybe getting attached is unavoidable and that’s what makes the villains stronger characters. Again, it does seem to be in their nature to be removed at some point. So expect a little heartbreak. Though there is that one villain I killed off and have no qualms about. He so deserved everything he got.

  9. I happen to love Charle’s villans. Most have a personality that gets you interested in them as characters, not just scenery. (some have a pretty good sense of humor as well.)

  10. Reblogged this on Otherworld and Back and commented:
    I will be using this. 😀 Such great advice on a very crucial story element!

  11. Fascinating read, mainly because it totally contradicts the villain par excellence in K’Barth, with whom I am besotted. So long as he stays in K’Barth.

    But seriously, I think there is a role for totally evil villains and lots of exposure. People like villains. OK I like villains and the worse, the better.

  12. Pingback: Daylight Savings Time Weekend: Arizona, You Lucky Bastards | Legends of Windemere

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