Villains come in many packages. They range from greedy megalomaniacs, mad scientists, princes of darkness, angry misanthropes, cat-torturing perverts, or…that quiet neighbor next door who’s never gotten a speeding ticket.
Some years ago at a writers conference, Ann Rule–the queen of true crime–explained why she liked to write about villains like the boy-next-door typeTed Bundy instead of [insert name of whatever sensational, crazed psychopath pops up in the daily news].
What I understood her to say was that villains are more interesting when they don’t look like villains.
She was talking about her own projects within true crime, but my brain got stuck on this for story potential, especially for mystery and suspense fiction.
I think it’s true, too, for fictional villains. They are more complex characters when their evil is hidden. And it makes it more fun for the reader, either trying to guess whodunnit in a mystery or understanding the whydunnit side in a suspense novel.
Interesting villains are those who outwardly look like your average joe or jane. Inside, they harbor the depths of darkness. Outside, they blend in with a crowd. They act normal in public, and they do their villainy under wraps. What makes them tick?
Make no mistake: villains certainly act villainous, but “the quiet villain” is way too crafty and clever to make his or her villainy obvious. They aren’t easy to spot in a crowd. They know how to behave in a socially acceptable manner in public so that they blend in and slip through the dragnet, making it all that much harder for our hero.
Villains are so wily that they test the metal of smart sleuth. The villain is the only character capable of possibly winning a match against the protagonist sleuth. Will this be the book where the villain wins this time? It keeps us reading the next book in order to find out!