While it’s the daring sleuths that we usually remember from mysteries we read, an intriguing villain and criminal motive are essential to create a compelling plot. Today’s prompt is designed to help you develop one!
Characters spring from ourselves, of course— and that includes our villains. The potentially dangerous school counselor at the center of my middle grade mystery, THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, is a hypocrite with a smothering, controlling personality — and a fondness for garish sweaters and jewelry. I’d certainly hope I bear no resemblance to her. On the other hand, aren’t plenty of us hypocrites in one way or another? When I was an English teacher, on more than one occasion I assigned a paper I would have hated to write myself. Then there’s Dr. Agford’s relentless desire to control outcomes of situations. Many of us— especially writers— have that, don’t we? Agford also likes being right — and guess what? So do I!
To create my potential villain, I took these minor impulses and pushed them to ridiculous extremes. You can do the same.
1) List at least three actions that have irritated or upset you lately, either your own or someone else’s. Has someone promised to get back to you, but forgot? Has someone brought up an embarrassing story from the past in a public situation? Did you cut someone off in traffic because you were impatient?
2) Now push those traits or actions to their extremes. The neglectful friend can become a megalomaniac who cares about nothing but how he can get ahead. The person who brought up the embarrassing story? A vengeful friend who was once slighted is now determined to destroy your main character’s reputation.
3) Ask yourself: how would a person with that extreme trait react when facing an obstacle? What crime might they be willing to commit and why?
Hopefully this brief exercise will you start to sketch out your villain -- and their intriguing crime!