Tips for Being a Successful Villain

Keep It Simple: If you get your hands on a hero, don’t go for some elaborate form of execution. If you maroon them on a cannibal-infested island, they will get off (and possibly make friends with the natives). If you lock them up with a vicious animal, they will kill it. If you leave them poised over a chasm or pit of snakes or anything, they will escape. Just kill them.

Do It Quickly: What are you waiting for, anyway? The cavalry?  Don’t you know good guys always get brilliant ideas in life-threatening situations? Kill them quickly.

Do It Yourself: I guarantee you, this is the only way to go. Good help is so hard to find. Leave the room and they will escape. If you have some sort of emergency, don’t break off the execution. Wrap it up. How long does it take to shoot someone?

Shut Up, Stupid: Don’t monologue. For the love of all villainy, don’t monologue. Don’t get people on a platter and then babble at them about how great you are. Do you know what will really impress them? Total, crushing victory. Don’t say you’re going to take over the world; take it over. Don’t tell them you’re so brilliant and unstoppable; be brilliant and unstoppable. You’re not going to talk these people to death, but you might talk yourself to death. A villain who gets the advantage and then jabbers, instead of pressing it, is the last hope of the beleaguered hero.

And don’t go around randomly divulging your master plot. That’s even dumber. It’s okay to gloat a little – I’m not a fascist here – but keep it snappy. In the first place, it’s just better dialogue. In the second, when you start rambling and outing double agents and secret bases and whatnot, you’re just hurting your cause. They might still get away, especially if you don’t shut up. Or if you’re not following my advice about offing heroes.

Work Before Play: You may think I’m spoiling your fun with these rules, but you have to keep first things first. Revenge is nice, but you can’t let it get in the way of business. Do you think being a great villain is all fun and games? Do you think you get to be dictator of the world by loafing off? Achieve total domination and then you can really swing it. In the meantime, don’t jeopardize your victory for the temporary pleasure of being spiteful. It’s unprofessional.

Avoid Having Relatives: In the annals of failed villains, there is a chapter of shame for the biggest failures of all. They not only failed to beat the good guys and get what they wanted, they failed even to be evil. How sorry is that? Usually they got all sentimental and guilt-tripped over some family member (a dreadful experience in and of itself). Then they became weepy and soul-searching and generally pathetic, and next thing you know they’re selling out to the heroes. If you don’t want to be so pitiful, a good first step is to avoid having relatives, as far as it is possible.

And the Moral of the Story …

Christian fiction is often designed to teach some sort of moral. There is some debate among Christian readers and writers as to which is better – writing a story to teach a lesson or writing a story with no particular point to make. I have done both. My Christian Holmes series – all short stories written for SALT Magazine – always have a moral. My longer works, on the other hand, never do. But even if they are not written around a moral lesson, they are often written around a moral idea.

My starting point for The Exiled, a novella-length story, was the question of whether a “noble mutiny” might be possible. Two other stories of about the same length (The Quiet One and The Beauty of the Lilies) were very character-driven. They had no “point”, in that sense. (Though, because one was about a painter who saw God in nature and the other was about a man who forgave people who harmed him, they were not entirely without religion.)

The book I am now writing is primarily about choices, especially the greatest choice of all. We all have to decide what we believe and what we live for; the choice must be made and will be made, if only by default. That idea flows beneath the whole story.

The idea at the heart of The Last Heir is that of slow corruption. Very often the turn to evil is portrayed like this in fiction: A fairly decent person experiences some horrible tragedy, flips, and becomes criminally psychopathic. I never thought this was a very interesting or accurate idea of corruption. I wanted a path to evil that was more complex, more gradual – a path that began with good, as evil always does. I wanted it to recall the truth that we are more likely to be led into evil by desires than by suffering. I attempted to portray this journey in one of my characters.

People talk about character arcs, the journey of the man who became a hero. I wrote a downward arc, the journey of the man who became the villain.