The Art of Writing Bad

Some might say I’m the perfect candidate to write about writing bad. Which is just mean. The rest of you are most likely judging me for my grammar. And not silently either. Yes, I said writing bad instead of badly. But I have a reason for my abuse of the English language.

Other than those I normally use, which is…did not, you big dummy.

Anyway, I am talking about the art of writing a bad guy. A violent villain. Any antagonist worthy of Hannibal Lector. Admit it, that movie totally creeped you out. But it wasn’t about Hannibal, but how he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. The tiny characteristics that made your skin crawl. The fava beans line, so perfectly delivered that even now, whenever you have a bottle of chianti, you have to say the line.

How does one incorporate these nuances in a bad guy? (Please note, my use of guy/he is in the universal sense. Women can be bad guys too. So no emails).

The perfect bad guy.
The perfect bad guy.

First, make sure he has just as a compelling reason for his actions as your protagonist. Nothing worse than a mad scientist with no reason for being angry. Even if you don’t use this reasoning, make sure you know what drives him. What drives him will influence his every action, down to choice of weapon. Say your bad guy is a woman scorned who is after revenge on her lover. Chances are she will either poison him or choose an up close and personal weapon (i.e., icepick).

Next, every action must be viewed via that motive and background. A mad scientist likely went to university, so the use of slag would be minimal. Bigger 50-cent words. Dresses with a little more care or dresses like a complete slob. Either way, the decision is based on his background and motives.

Mix in real evil. The kind of evil that makes you cringe. Make them the worst they can be, based on their motives and background.

And finally, give them a satisfactory ending. Think terminator. Arnold’s sinking into the smelting pot, one mechanical arm holding the chain. Just don’t kill them, make it count. Give their ending the same power you give your protagonist. The only difference between the antagonist and the protagonist is perspective. You owe your good bad guy that much.

Any other advice for writing bad guys? Scars are always a nice touch. One over the eye.

J.A. (Julie) Kazimer
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J.A. (Julie) Kazimer is a writer living in Denver, CO. Books include The Junkie Tales, The Body Dwellers, CURSES! A F***ed-Up Fairy Tale, Holy Socks & Dirtier Demons, Dope. Sick. Love. SHANK, Froggy Style, The Assassin's Heart, The Fairyland Murders & The Lady in Pink - Deadly Ever After Mysteries.

14 thoughts on “The Art of Writing Bad

  1. Try to remember the villain thinks he’s the hero of his own story. However (and I’m not sure the line wasn’t meant in jest), those stereotypes/cliches of ugly, scars, disfigurement only wave red flags that say “this is the bad guy” and if you’re writing a mystery, you want to hide your villain, not parade him in front of the reader. Ted Bundy was a bad guy. He was a good-looking bad guy, which made him all the scarier. Of course, if you bad guy’s motivations stem from his physical issues, that’s another thing entirely.

  2. The editor for An Unsinkable Love and I had several back and forths over my bad guy. She kept saying he had to have something likable about him – he couldn’t be all bad. I finally ended up having him be the guy who told great stories and jokes and on the surface was the best guy at the party. Everything else about him was horrible. One of the reviewers even said “…the villain–wow! A more despicable creature I cannot imagine and I loved waiting for his demise…”, so I guess it worked. I love your granny with the pie bad person – I may have to figure out a way to do that! Loved your post, as usual!

  3. Fun post, Julie! Love the villain photo, LOL! Terry Odell, just the thought of Ted Bundy still makes most of us shiver. And Terri Benson, love the “Life-of-the-party” villain – that’s thinking outside the box!

  4. I’m not sure I’m going to go to deep with this. My fear is I’ll go so “bad” I’ll never recover and will forever write from the dredges of society. . .but then again, I’ll be in good company. You’re there, right?

  5. Maybe I have some re-thinking to do. The second book starts out with the last scene from book one as seen through the eyes and thoughts of the bad guy…er…god. So perhaps having the readers see his badness and attitude from the start isn’t as good of an idea as I thought, even though this isn’t a mystery story. Ooooh, and that just gave me an idea! Now I just have to figure out how to make it work. Great article, as always!

  6. Yay! I love new ideas. Knowing someone’s bad is fine, it’s knowing someone’s bad isn’t all is better. Good luck with the new idea (I think it’s funny you’ll have to rewrite without that damn outline. Yep, I’m a mean one).

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