Giving the Villain a First-Person POV by Linda Lovely
If the villain in a novel is intelligent, resourceful, and relentless, the heroine needs the same attributes—in spades—to outwit her opponent.
An evil versus good see-saw offers an excellent suspense-building tool. This is especially true if authors give readers a peek at what evil deeds the villain is planning. Such insights encourage readers to root for the heroine, who may seem like an underdog, still struggling to figure out the “why” of a murder let alone the “who done it.”
To build tension, I work hard to make my villains formidable—and credible. They can’t be carboard cutouts. Every human, even monsters like Hannibal Lecter, display some admirable qualities.
In The Writer’s Journey, Christopher Vogler remarks: “Every villain is a hero of his or her own story.” Actor Tom Hiddleston is credited with saying “Every villain is a hero in his own mind.” I agree. And that makes writing villains challenging and fun.
In a mystery, there are many ways to reveal a villain’s motives, objectives, and personality. I’m a long-time Sue Grafton fan, who couldn’t wait for the late author to deliver the next “letter” in her alphabet-titled series. However, I believe Grafton dramatically notched up the tension in her series with T is for Trespass. In that mystery novel, Grafton’s primary villain was allotted her own chapters. These third-person POV chapters drew a chilling portrait of a cunning sociopath.
In my new traditional mystery, With Neighbors Like These, I followed Grafton’s example. While most of the book unfolds in my heroine’s first-person point-of-view chapters, readers periodically pay a visit to The Twin, my clever, calculating villain. My villain’s chapters also are written in first-person to give the reader unfiltered access to The Twin’s mind—emotions, ideas, dark humor, elaborate plans.
The first-person approach has a side benefit. It doesn’t give away a single clue about The Twin’s age, occupation, appearance or other identifying characteristics. So, while readers gain an insider’s view of the villain’s plans, they must keep turning pages to see if the heroine can ID the killer before the body count climbs. To avoid reader confusion about which “I” character is speaking, each of The Twin’s chapters are clearly identified.
This is my ninth published novel. A structure that works best for one book may be a poor fit for another. I’m pleased with how my villain’s chapters upped the suspense in With Neighbors Like These, so I’m taking the same approach in the second book in my HOA (homeowner association) Mystery series.
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A journalism major in college, Linda Lovely has spent most of her career working in PR and advertising—an early introduction to penning fiction. With Neighbors Like These is Lovely’s ninth mystery/suspense novel. Whether she’s writing cozy mysteries, historical suspense or contemporary thrillers, her novels share one common element—smart, independent heroines. Humor and romance also sneak into every manuscript. Her work has earned nominations for a number of prestigious awards, ranging from RWA’s Golden Heart for Romantic Suspense to Killer Nashville’s Silver Falchion for Best Cozy Mystery.