One of the most important parts of writing a good action/adventure book usually involves a strong villain. Now when I say a villain, you don’t have to imagine Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty or Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible. The best part about making a villain is that you don’t have to follow the fairytale archetype, which is black and white (Cinderella is good and the stepmother is evil). You can make a villain complex, instead of being just evil, with no clear motive.

Here are a few key points you can apply to your book that will help your villain develop a complexity—and not just be any other villain, who is just bad.

  • The villain needs to have a reason why they have turned to the dark side. Did they have an abusive childhood that made them bitter? Do they have an important goal, and the protagonist is in their way of achieving it?
  • The villain doesn’t have to be 100% bad. A strong villain can and probably should have a complexity to them. For example, they may do anything to stop the protagonist, but they care deeply about their love interest and will do anything for them.
  • Make the protagonist friends with the villain, trusting him more than anyone else. Then when the protagonist needs the villain the most, the villain will betray them and show their true colors. If done correctly, your readers will be shocked.
  • Make the villain as intelligent as the protagonist or more intelligent. This means that the villain will be thinking one step ahead, and the protagonist will be put into impossible situations. Think of it like a game of soccer: there is an offense and defense. The offense is the antagonist, constantly putting the protagonist in impossible situations. And the protagonist is the defense, constantly finding a clever way out of them. The playing field is pretty even, which makes the game interesting.
  • The reader needs to fear the villain. When they step into the room, the reader needs to feel anxiety.

There are two ways to strengthen the fear factor:

Establish the villain’s reputation. Show that the villain doesn’t hesitate when he holds a gun. When he collides with the protagonist, it shouldn’t be any different. (of course, you will need to creatively think your way out of it)

  • Have the protagonist or an authority figure try to overthrow the villain—and fail. The villain will get away, only being more outraged and motivated to accomplish his goal. This will scare the readers, realizing that the villain is unstoppable.

Follow these tips, and you will find that your villain is going to make your book a page-turner.
Betty Krasnik is a student studying at University of Illinois at Chicago. She has published work in Calliope, Red Shoes Review, and Black Fox literary magazine. Currently, she is writing short stories, writer’s blogs, and is finalizing her first dystopian novel. She wants to help other writers on their journey by sharing tips and guidance to help with common pitfalls and ways to enhance characters, plot, and overall storytelling. Follow her on Instagram @betty_krasnik for pictures of her illustrations, cute pictures of her Norwegian Forest cat, and updates on future publications.