Brainstorming the Villain Persona

Photo by ba1969
Photo by ba1969

Villains bring the whole creepy factor to your novel. Sometimes villains are devious and brilliant, other times they are crass and brutish. But one thing they all have in common is that they have a public persona.

What exactly do I mean by public persona?

A villain’s public persona is the image they project to the community. We often hear of killers who fooled everyone around them. They were model citizens, community leaders and the perfect family man. Maybe they skulk through dark alleys, avoid any contact with someone who might recognize them, or generally dislike interacting with people.

Brainstorming the villain persona is a key element to developing their point of view scenes and the way that they threaten your hero/heroine.

Questions To Ask When Brainstorming the Persona of a Villain:

*Do they prefer public attention or invisibility?

This component is essential to determine because it will impact the actions and proximity opportunities for the villain. Research profiles of these types of villains so you can best fit their persona to their psychological makeup.

*How do they get attention or stay invisible?

The public attention seeking villain will be a leader in the community, or run for public office. If there is a desire to stay invisible, there are actions taken to keep away any attention. This villain also will also find any public attention as an obstacle.

*What community functions or activities are they involved in or conversely, which ones do they avoid?

Identifying if they are a deacon at their church, running for mayor, or simply flip burgers on the night shift is key to determining what opportunities will arise for the villain to access, threaten, or plot against the hero/heroine.

*What gives my villain a thrill?

The public persona of the villain often informs what gives the villain the greatest rush. Once you identify their preferences you are able to pull in their moments of euphoric rush

What is the most interesting element of the public persona of a known villain that you’ve heard of?

The What and Why of Writing: Villains

Dangerous criminal hiding in the shadows.
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So often when we think of a novel’s main characters, we zero in on the hero and heroine. That is all well and good, after all, what is a romance without a hero and heroine?  And every story, no matter what genre, needs a protagonist – a good guy or gal, someone the reader is rooting for.

But in your zeal to craft a compelling hero and/or heroine, don’t forget to ask yourself: Who is the villain of this story?

What: A villain is the antagonist of your story. When you think villain, don’t just think danger, think threat. Or opposition.


  • A villain can be a person. Hans Gruber, the lead terrorist in Die Hard, goes down in my book as the archetype villain.


  • A twist on the villain-as-person scenario is when the main character is his (or her) greatest danger. “I have had more trouble with myself than with any other man I’ve met.” –D.L. Moody (1837-1899), evangelist


  • A villain also can be an event. Think of the threat of a war. Or an earthquake. Or an alien invasion.  (My husband always asks when the aliens are going to show up in my contemporary romances. Um, never.)

Why: Every story needs conflict, and villains certainly create that. But don’t throw in a villain just to ramp up tension. The villain needs a plausible reason for being in the story besides making your main character’s life miserable. How is the villain creating Ds (Disasters) for your character, forcing him to face Ys in the Road? How is the villain causing your character to change – to use his competencies, and either succeed or fail?

Your villain must be:

  • Believable. Readers must believe that what villain threatens will actually happen. What scene can you insert early in your story that proves your villain isn’t just talking smack? Example: In You Don’t Know Me by Susan May Warren, the bad guy kills someone to find out where the heroine is. Yeah, he’s dangerous.
  • Personal. To create true conflict, readers have to see the villain go after your main character(s). Even if it’s something external, such as an impending tsunami, you have to threaten the hero in a personal way. Go after her child. Example: In Die Hard, John McClane isn’t just trying to free a group of unknown hostages – his wife is one of them.
  • Unbeatable.  Please, no wimpy villains. The villain must be seemingly unbeatable. Is your villain smarter than your heroine? Is he stronger than your hero?  Example:  In the movie Eagle Eye, the villain is unseen – and seemingly omniscient, able to make things happen to force the hero and heroine do her bidding. How do you win against someone with unlimited knowledge and control?


One key way to craft a strong villain is to recall your main character’s Greatest Fear, which comes from that Dark Moment in the past. Is your villain threatening your character in a way that taps into that Greatest Fear?

Think about your work-in-progress (WIP): What kind of villain have you crafted for your novel? An internal force? An external force? An actual person or persons? Is your villain believable, personal and (seemingly) unbeatable?

The What and Why of Writing: Creating a Strong Villain Click to Tweet

Tips for Creating a Strong Villain  Click to Tweet

Who is Your Novel’s Villain?  Click to Tweet



The What and Why of Writing: Values

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ~Roy Disney (1930-2009), longtime senior executive for The Walt Disney Company

Every day we make decisions. And if we stopped and really thought about it, we’d realize we made those choices based on our values – the things that are important to us.  Or as Proverbs so aptly puts it: Everyone does what is right in his (or her) own eyes. (Proverbs 21:2)

Guess what? The imaginary characters in our books? They have to do the very same thing: make choices based on their values.

What: Values

Things we desire, whether we have them or not, such as forgiveness, honesty, money, compassion, power and trust


We don’t like it when we wander around aimlessly, not sure what to do. Wasted hours, wasted days. And we’re certainly not going to read (or write) a book where the hero and heroine spend pages and pages thinking, “What should I do? What should I do?”

If you know what your characters values are, then you can easily determine what they would do. How do you figure out a character’s values? Think about it for a minute: What formed your values? Your life experience. The same is true for your characters. This is why it’s important to know your hero’s and heroine’s Dark Moment, Wound and Lie – these experiences influence what they value.

Example: If your hero moved around a lot as a child, if he never really had a place to call home, what might he value?

Answer: You could play this several ways (It’s your book, after all.) Maybe he grows up to value home and roots because he never had that. Or maybe he values independence and being a loner – as a defense mechanism to protect his Wound.

Example: If your heroine was told she was ugly (and that her sister was the beautiful one), what might she value?

Answer: She might grow up to value external beauty – trying to prove everyone wrong. Or (once again flipping this) she might value brains (intelligence), trying to prove her worth that way, since she isn’t beautiful, or so people say.

Once you know their values, you can plot stronger scenes. You know that the hero who values home will clash with the heroine who is career-driven – and you know why. And you know that your “brainiac” heroine is really covering up a wound – and will reveal heartache as she interacts with the hero.

Looking for some resources on values? Check out:

MBT’s Skills Coach, Beth K. Vogt provides her readers with a happily ever after woven through with humor, reality, and God’s lavish grace. Her inspirational contemporary romance novel, Wish You Were Here, debuted May 2012 (Howard Books.) Her second novel, Catch a Falling Star, releases May 2013. Beth is an established magazine writer and former editor of Connections, the leadership magazine for MOPS International. Visit with Beth at her website

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