Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Brainstorming Villains – Creepy In Layers by Michelle Lim

Michelle Lim
Posts on Tuesdays usually refer to overcoming some sort of obstacle in life or in our writing, but today we have the wonderful Michelle Lim discussing how to make our characters' miserable through our villains. This was originally posted on her blog, Thoughts on Plot, but she's graciously allowed me to repost it here for you today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. ~ Angie

There are some villains we see in our lives, on TV shows, or on the news that are creepy to the tenth degree. Those kinds of villains are easier to splash on the page than the less obvious villain.

How do you build a creepy villain when they are less than obvious to the average person?

You build creepy in layers.

We often build layers in our characters, but our villains need them to, especially if they are building the impending doom for your characters.

Creepy Layers Every Villain Should Have:

  1. Motivations that make them evil. Villains need motivations for what they do, just like our other characters. Their motivations don’t need to seem normal to the rest of us, but they need to have some.
  2. Private moments to enjoy their wickedness. In your story include some scenes that show the wickedness of the villain’s thought world or private actions.
  3. Power over the hero or heroine in some way. Show how the villain is powerful to impact the hero or heroine’s world. ( I learned this tip from Susan May Warren through My Book Therapy.)
  4. Proximity to the hero or heroine who is unaware of the danger they are in. This often adds a lot of conflict to a scene and gives opportunity to build the tension.
  5. Public face that hides the truth and often makes those who suspect them seem judgmental. This will allow your hero or heroine to feel guilt when suspecting the villain.
  6. Reflect their villain nature in their scene surroundings. If you have a gritty villain, show that in the setting. If you have a serial killer they will have a much darker setting. Build the darkness of your villain in the scene’s story world. This allows you to show the evil without making it easy for the hero/heroine to recognize their darkness.

What layers do you think make a villain creepy?

Click to Tweet:
Every villain needs a moment to enjoy their wickedness. #mystery #suspense
Build creepy in layers. #amwriting #mystery #suspense
Build your villain's darkness in their story world.
About the Author
Idea Sparking: How to Brainstorm
Conflict in Your Novel
by Michelle Lim
Author Michelle Lim is the Brainstorming/Huddle Coach with My Book Therapy Press and the Midwest Zone Director for American Christian Fiction Writers. Her romantic suspense is represented with Books & Such Literary Agency. Michelle writes devotionals for The Christian Pulse Online and Putting On The New as well as articles for her own blog, thoughtsonplot@wordpress.com. Since her nonfiction book release, Idea Sparking: How To Brainstorm Conflict In Your Novel, through public speaking and online chats Michelle helps writers discover the revolutionary power of brainstorming to bring new life to their stories.

Follow Michelle On Twitter https://twitter.com/MichelleLim24
Follow Michelle On Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/michelle.lim.5

Idea Sparking: How to Brainstorm Conflict in Your Novel 
Plotting a riveting and compelling story that stands out from the thousands of novels on the bookshelf takes creativity and strategic thinking. An author must learn to think outside the box, and yet create conflict reasonable and personal to their characters. Whether you love to plot out every infinite detail in your story before writing, or prefer to discover your story on the journey, Idea Sparking: How to Brainstorm Conflict in Your Novel is the tool you need to create the right conflict to build a powerful story.


  1. I love your tip to allow your villain to have his "private moment." There's nothing more terrifying that realizing that the villain is not that much different than you are.

    Thanks so much for joining us, Michelle!

    1. Good point, Angie. I liked number five--turning the tables to make the good guys into the bad guys. Thanks, Michelle.

    2. That part is so fun! We can have someone who is seemingly good, but the character has some uneasiness when around them that they can't justify and so they feel guilty over it. Builds great tension! Thanks for stopping by Sandra!

  2. Oooh, I especially like #5 because that always give me a jolt when the villain's a guy hiding behind a public face that most people admire and respect. Awesome tips, Michelle.

    1. Thanks, Dora! I'm often amazed by the tenacity of some villains. Power is something that can corrupt someone in the public eye.

  3. I know, I shouldn't comment twice, but if you enjoyed today's post on brainstorming villains, Michelle has a great post today on her blog about "Brainstorming Chemistry" using clips from NCIS:LA (one of my favorite shows). Here's the shortened link: http://bit.ly/1oLldZB

    1. Thanks, Angie! I appreciate the shout out!

  4. Michelle - I'm like you, I love a good villain. I like a villain who compartmentalizes life. Loves his wife, but has no problem killing my heroine.

    Your number five makes me think of the serial killer that all the neighbors swear is a nice man.

  5. What a great way to put that, Terri! Compartmentalization. It is amazing how much of a chameleon villains can be.


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