Posted by: nancycurteman | November 30, 2010

How to Write an Electrifying Murder Mystery Villain

In a murder mystery the antagonist or villain is just as important as the story hero. He is usually the murderer. The antagonist is the character needed to create the conflict essential to the mystery novel. He is always the obstacle that seeks to prevent the protagonist getting what she wants.Without the antagonist, there is no story. It is critical to understand that the villain is a main character and must be treated as such. He needs to be as well-developed as the protagonist.

Introduce the murderer early in the murder mystery along with other possible suspects. Don’t drop him from the sky at the end of the novel. Your readers will love following clues throughout the novel that, they may or may not realize, point to the murderous scoundrel.

The antagonist needs motivation to commit his crime. His motives may include envy, greed, jealousy, revenge or fear. The motivation must derive from his history and experiences, so it’s essential to provide him with a past. Your readers need to understand why the he thinks what he’s doing is justified, even though they know he’s wrong.

Give your villain strengths and frailties. He should not be a stereotypical, melodrama villain who only wears black and is so evil that his every action is a dastardly deed. Your “baddie” needs some good traits and behaviors just like every other human being. Give him a warm smile and a soft spot in his heart for kids or dogs or grandmothers. Have him donate some time or money to a worthy cause. You want your readers to wonder how such an altruistic person could murder someone in cold blood. Add a few behaviors readers can associate with the killer—a facial tick, stutter, boisterous laugh, chain-smoking. These unique behaviors and attitudes make for a more complex and interesting character. The story hero and your readers may even sympathize with some of the villain’s values or habits.

Most important, the basic goal of the antagonist must conflict with that of the protagonist in your mystery novel. And, for an exciting page-turner story, your antagonist must be as powerful as the protagonist. He should almost conquer the hero with the clever, unexpected obstacles he devises to thwart your heroes efforts to achieve his objective—to bring the criminal to justice. Of course, the hero will win in the end, but the reader’s journey will have been a real “white knuckle” ride—full of tension and satisfaction.

Photo: imageshack

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Responses

  1. More good stuff. Does it never cease? Thanks.

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  2. […] In a murder mystery the antagonist or villain is just as important as the story hero. He is usually the murderer. The antagonist is the character needed to create the conflict essential to the mystery novel. He is always the obstacle that seeks to prevent the protagonist getting what she wants. Without the antagonist, there is no story. It is critical to understand that the villain is a main character and must be treated as such. He needs to be a … Read More […]

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  3. Thanks for your encouragement.

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  4. I get some really top-notch tips from your posts, Nancy. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Spot on!

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  6. Straight to the point as always, Nancy, and useful too.
    That said, I wonder if readers in general haven’t caught on to some of this yet?
    I know that in most mysteries I read or watch, the least likely killer is the one. I wonder if we can’t find a way to take the bamboozlement of our readers to the next level?

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    • Good point, Richard. I like tsuchigari’s idea below. How about making the most likely suspect the actual killer?

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  7. I was thinking of ways to shake up the “least likely killer” problem and the best I could come up with was to make the most likely suspect actually be guilty. Could be fun twisting the story around the protagonist trying to find the least likely when the guilty person is right there. Material for a murder parody perhaps?

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    • What a great idea! Now all I have to wrap a mystery novel around it.

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  8. Very good Nancy, it’s true that we should never have one dimensional baddies.

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    • Hi Alannah,
      Thanks for your comment. Great to meet you as a friend on Facebook.

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      • Thank you Nancy. In case you wonder, I used to blog as Here Be Dragons. I had to unsubscribe and re-subscribe to everyone when I changed blogs.

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  9. Thank you for the advice. Great post!

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