The murder must always be believable

canstockphoto1131704I just finished reading a mystery novel in which a wife was pushed over the side of a cliff while trying to reconcile with her estranged husband. The husband was the obvious suspect, but in the end it turned out to be her jealous, wheelchair-bound sister who actually committed the crime. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this frustrated me.

The crime must always be believable. If not, the entire story unravels and bags of burning dog poop should be left on the author’s doorstep. And, in this case, the resolution to the mystery borders on criminally ridiculous. How would the jealous, wheelchair-bound sister get up to the mountain cliff in the first place? And even if she could somehow get there, how could she knock her sister over without the estranged husband seeing it? And how did she not leave tire marks behind?

The author was making the least likely character turn-out to be the murderer, and I’ll admit I didn’t guess the ending. But that reveal left a lot of questions on the table. While the motive made sense — jealousy — the means and opportunity aren’t plausible. The physics of the murder don’t make sense.

So, the lesson here is, all the little details of the murder (the how, where, and why) have to come together cohesively. It’s the missing puzzle piece that must fit perfectly to complete the puzzle.  Your reader will feel cheated if the crime is not something that could really happen.

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Inexperienced Evil: “Will the Real Bad Guy Please Stand Up?”

canstockphoto18799595Hey JC,

I read your post about Seven Archetypes to Create a ViIlain and I want to ask you a question.

One of my antagonists is not quite out there evil, unlike a lot of antagonists in books where you know right off they’re evil (e.g. Cruella de Vil. Darth Vader. Hannibal Lector. It was obvious that they were evil from the very beginning) but I want the reader to think, “I don’t know what it is, however I don’t quite trust her”.

Any suggestions on how to write such a character?

Just to give an example of what I’m talking about, if anyone saw the original Friday The 13th, when you first see Mrs. Voorhees she does not seem like an antagonist until she talks about her son, Jason.

Sincerely,
Inexperienced Evil

Dear Inexperienced,

What genre are you writing? I’m guessing it’s more in the suspense-thriller category rather than a mystery. Either way, the best villains are those who think they’re the hero. They believe their cause is just, and maybe in the beginning of the story it is. However, as the plot moves forward, the villain continues to take his actions to the next level and loses sight of who he is hurting in the pursuit of his goal.

I’d start with the Protagonist and Antagonist possibly being on the same side, maybe even being friends. As the plot forces the two apart, the Antagonist will take a stronger, more aggressive approach to the situation. This approach will conflict with the Protagonist’s principals and ideals, creating conflict. I read a story once about two environmentalists who were trying to protect a forest from loggers.

In a mystery, the Antagonist’s identity is a secret until the very end. Several genuine clues will be dropped here and there that a perceptive reader may pick-up. Referring to your example, the original Friday the 13th was a mystery to some degree, in that the audience thought Jason was committing the murders. The mother explains that he drowned, giving the audience the impression the teens were being pursued by his ghost. Then in the end it is revealed that the mother was actually dressing up as her son and killing the teens. That type of story requires a red herring (who the reader/audience believes is the killer) and a hidden murderer revealed in the end of the book..

Good luck and keep writing.

JC

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Got a question for me? Hit the contact button at the top and send me an email. Or do you disagree with my advice? Let me know in the comments. How would you respond to Inexperienced Evil’s problem?

Zealous Zodiac Characteristics: Basic Character Templates

canstockphoto11107671Sometimes when creating characters, it helps to begin with a character template. There’s a great set of character traits described in the Zodiac. Each sign has specific personality traits that describe who a person is and the type of emotions they are likely to display.

Capricorn

A Capricorn is hardworking, responsible, reliable, loyal, sincere and has a strong will power. They also tend to be introverted, slightly obstinate, short tempered and have difficulty accepting authority. Capricorns are very calm individuals. They do not become agitated easily. Capricorns like being leaders in the workplace and they do not take orders from others well at all. You may find a Capricorn unleashing a sharp tongue lashing if you try to take control of a project. In matters of the heart, Capricorns are very romantic. Dinners by candlelight and flowers for no reason are qualities you can expect from a Capricorn. Capricorns like to be wanted and needed.

Aquarius

Aquarius is friendly, affable, intelligent, kind, compassionate and practical. Weaknesses of the Aquarius are being unpredictable, adamant, dislike towards making commitments and hating adhering to conventions. Aquarius are generally soft spoken but can demonstrate the ability to change up now and again. They love things that are new and enjoy experimenting with new ideas and concepts. Creativity flows through their veins. Aquarius tend to have a large number of friends though normally not many close or best buddies. They are friendly and nice and enjoy being around other people. Their flighty and ever-changing personality make getting close with an Aquarius next to impossible. One minute you may be an Aquarius’ best friend and the next just someone who is in the way.

Pisces

Strengths of the Pisces include being intuitive, empathetic, uninterested in material things and having a sharp memory. Weaknesses of the Pisces include being emotional or sensitive, and prone to wistfulness, mood swings and inflexibility. Greed in not a quality Pisces possess. They are not materialistic people. Pisces are well aware of how the world works but they also know their place. Pisces either run with the flow of the people around them or they run against it. They are either one extreme or the other there is no in between. Pisces are calm and cool and rarely lose their tempers. Pisces can charm your socks off without blinking an eye. In the event of troubling situations, Pisces have the ability to remain calm and rational. They think through situations rather than through reacting impulsively. Pisces are great lovers of music and art. You may find a Pisces in an orchestra or crafting a new picture for an art gallery. Pisces try to help everyone around them. They dislike their friends being unhappy and they will bend over backwards to be helpful.

Aries

Adventurous, energetic, courageous, and confident are the strengths of Aries. Weaknesses include being self-centered, short-tempered, impulsive, and impatient. Aries are known to be friendly and outgoing people. You would notice an Aries in a room full of people since they would be the ones talking and introducing themselves. Aries stand up for what they believe in. You will find them rooting for the underdog or defending and assisting those with weaker personality traits. Aries only are aware of their wants and needs. They are not selfish they just don’t always realize they are putting someone else out.Though an Aries can be pushed to have a temper, it normally won’t last long. Seldom will you come across an Aries that holds a grudge. Forgive and forget is a motto most Aries live by.

Taurus

The Bull symbolizes strong and silent, and this is exactly how a Taurus is said to be. Until you really get to know a Taurus you will probably not see his or her true self. Strengths of Taurus include being compassionate, dependable, loyal, reliable, and also being strong both physically and emotionally. Stubbornness, aggressiveness, sensitivity and a dislike when faced with change are all weaknesses associated with a Taurus. Taurus are very stubborn individuals and once their minds are made up, swaying them even a little is next to impossible. If you do not try to push, Taurus folks will come across as being laid back and reserved. Take heed though because if you anger a Taurus, it is likely that you might find a violent temper. However, Taurus tempers generally will not flare until they are pushed. Taurus make wonderful friends, and whenever you need them they will certainly be some of the first ones there. Taurus know exactly how to brighten the day of friends in need. Don’t count on a Taurus ever calling on you to return the favor. They are very in tune with their emotions and rarely display them. Taurus are loyal and will stand beside a friend until the bitter end.

Gemini

Jovial, good communication skills, inquisitiveness and flexibility are all strengths of the Gemini. Weaknesses of the Gemini include selfishness, restlessness, confusing personalities and difficulty being on time. Gemini change their minds as often as they change their underwear. Boredom quickly makes a Gemini turn and look for other avenues of excitement and entertainment. Gemini have little to no patience. Ironically, they do not flourish in environments where indecisive people are present. Gemini can talk themselves in and out of a situation all in the same breath. They do not stay in one place too long. In most disagreements, Gemini will come out the victor with an extraordinary ability to use words in their favor. Falling in love with a Gemini can be exciting and dangerous. With their dual personalities Gemini keep their love life spicy. In matters of the heart, hang on tight because you are in for an ever-changing ride. Don’t hold them to a time schedule as something can catch their eye and cause them to be late in a heartbeat.

Cancer

Cancer strengths are adaptability, loyalty, genuine attachment to a family, and empathy. Weaknesses of Cancer include moodiness, sensitivity, and emotional outbursts and indecisiveness. People assigned the sign of Cancer are genuinely moody and have ever changing emotions. One minute they may be laughing and having a good time and the next minute you may find them mad at the world. No one single emotion or personality can label a Cancer. Cancer will often masquerade their emotions with humor. Laughing is a common disguise used by Cancer to hide signs of depression. Cancer will set their aspirations high. Constant struggles for success and achievement lay beneath the exterior shell of Cancer.

Leo

Strengths of a Leo include kindness, big-heartedness, an energetic nature, optimism, honesty and loyalty. The weaknesses of a Leo are prone to jealousy, possessiveness, egotism or a more dominating personality. Leos dislike being bored and enjoy being around many people as they are at home playing the role of a leader. When Leos love, they love with all their hearts, and they take what they believe is theirs. They enjoy dishing out tons of advice and they expect that you should heed their advice as truth. The best way to tame the proud lion is to feed into their opinion of themselves. You can easily have the roaring lion eating out of the palm of your hand with kind words and praise. A Leo will tell it like it is – always. They have difficulty holding their tongues whether they are right or not. Leos will mean what they say and say what they mean. They speak their opinion whether you want to hear it or not so be prepared. Leo prospers most when in a loving relationship. You will rarely find a Leo alone. Leos automatically take on the leading role in a relationship even though they may complain now and again about having too much responsibility. They really do not feel that way they just growl now and again.

Virgo

Strengths of Virgo are perfectionist, realistic, practical, dependable, sincere and patient. Weaknesses of Virgo include being way too critical, restless, and they lack demonstrativeness and tend to push themselves too much. Virgo also tend to be quiet and family oriented people. Though you may notice a Virgo quietly off to the side, you can bet that he or she is simply taking in the details of every little thing. Virgos do not often put themselves in crowded situations, as they prefer to socialize one on one. Virgos are perfectionists meaning everything has its place. Virgos live in reality and seldom daydream. They take life for what it is and don’t set themselves up for disappointment. Virgos are workaholics and even in their work they expect and demand perfection from themselves. From their clothes to their homes, everything must be perfect. Much time is spent worrying about whether things are correct. Virgos are tidy and neat freaks. Dirt and sloppiness can cause a Virgo to offer a harsh tongue-lashing. A Virgo can also be a wonderful friend. Knowing what to say and when to say it is a trait most Virgos possess.

Libra

The strengths of a Libra are patience, balance, gregarious, loving, affectionate, cheerful, energetic and a social nature. Weaknesses of the Libra include indecisiveness, carelessness, prone to indulgence, and being overly emotional and sensitive. You will find a Libra to be extremely nice and polite. Libras love being around people and often serve as mediators between quarreling parties. A Libra will most always appear cheerful. Libras are very independent individuals and do not take orders well. Libras are intelligent and excellent listeners. They can also be naive and restless. Libras are often as confused as the people surrounding them by their wishy-washy traits. A Libra can bring laughter to the dreariest of circumstances. They are happiest when the people surrounding them are happy as well. They do not like for friends to be sad or upset. Libras take their time weighing pros and cons of a decision before committing one way or the other.

Scorpio

Strengths of the Scorpio include loyalty, trustworthiness, passionate, charismatic, mystifying, caring and patience. Weaknesses of Scorpio are stubbornness, becoming jealous easily, and being overly sensitive and egotistical. Scorpios have the ability to appear as though they are staring through people. Their gaze seems to penetrate the outer body and see directly into the soul. Scorpios have large egos and can stand on their own. Once they get something in their heads they can’t rest until they finish the task. Scorpios rarely let their emotions surface. They possess a sense of knowing when they are right and when they are wrong. Rarely will you notice a Scorpio playing bashful or shy. If you want an honest opinion about anything ask a Scorpio. Brutal honesty is a feature they cannot help but offer.Scorpios love with their complete hearts, but they have no tolerance for unfaithfulness. Questioning their own worth causes Scorpios to be very jealous and overly possessive especially in matters of the heart. They will stand beside the ones they love come what may, through thick and thin. You could not ask for a more loyal friend.

Sagittarius

Strengths of the Sagittarius include honesty, forthrightness, lightheartedness, intellectualism, and possession of excellent communication skills. Weaknesses of the Sagittarius are sharp tongue, prone to change, restlessness and a flirtatious nature. Sagittarius have a way with words like no other. They try to come across nice and friendly but normally end up hurting the feelings of others or just downright annoying others. They are not at all gifted with a talent for dishing out compliments. Most often compliments will come out more like insults and any attempts to correct misunderstandings are futile. Sagittarius are animal lovers and are most always the ones apt to take in homeless and stray animals that no one else would think about touching. They will nurture these outcasts back to health and prove they can be wonderful pets. Decisions of the heart take Sagittarius some time to make. They fall in love easily, but do not love lightly. A long internal struggle goes on inside the head of a Sagittarius before a decision related to commitment can be arrived at.

 

 

Bad Guys: the whole point of the mystery

canstockphoto4156898Within the logical scene sequence of a mystery novel, a murder is discovered, the sleuth arrives on scene to investigate and then the murderer’s identity is revealed at the end. But behind the scene (both figuratively and literally) the criminal has been there since the beginning. Unseen by both the sleuth and the reader, the criminal is actually driving the story.

That’s a pretty hefty role for your Antagonist to shoulder. And if you’re going to write a really good mystery, you better have a really good bad guy.

So who exactly is your murderer? Criminals generally fall into one of the categories below?

  • Amateur – generally commit crimes of opportunity; little thought and relatively no planning goes into how the crime will be committed; they are often emotional and live in close proximity to the crime scene. Think crimes of passion.
  • Professional – conduct detailed planning, carry out reconnaissance, and often have access to weapons & technology. They generally specialize, such as high level burglary, art theft, jewel theft, armored car robberies, and assassinations. Also, the professional may have received some form of training, perhaps within the military, prison system or overseas terrorist camps.
  • Blue-Collar – their crimes are often blamed on job loss and a bad economy. Nevertheless, these criminals make our streets unsafe. Blue-Collar Crimes often include kidnapping, shoplifting, vandalism and rape.
  • White-Collar –  financially motivated nonviolent crime committed by business and government professionals. These criminals are people of respectability and high social status, and their criminal activity includes fraud, bribery, Ponzi schemes, insider trading, embezzlement,cyber-crime, money laundering, identity theft, and forgery.
  • Organized Crime – International, national, or local groups of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals, who intend to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for monetary profit. Sometimes criminal organizations force people to do business with them, as when a gang extorts money from shopkeepers for so-called “protection” or motivate a private citizen to do their bidding under threat of harm to a family member or loved one
  • Street Gangs – A group with identifiable leadership and internal organization, identifying with or claiming control over territory in a community, and engaging in violent or other forms of illegal behavior. Members often have to prove their loyalty by committing acts such as theft or violence
  • Psychotic – an abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a “loss of contact with reality.” A psychotic just “snaps” and murders his family, or his pastor’s family, or shoots kids on campus from a clock tower.
  • Serial – a person who commits a series of two or more murders, as separate events over a period of time, with a cooling off period between the murders. The motivation for killing is usually based on psychological gratification. Hello, Hannibal Lector.

Want more information? Check out:

Seven Archetypes to Create a Memorable Villain

Even Hitler Loved His Dogs: Bad Guys with Good Motives

 

Creating your Heroine by finding your inner Madonna

1sbdcwPgu0HlOver the weekend, I was searching the net for character ideas, and was hoping to pattern an under-developed heroine around the personality of an established celebrity. That’s when I came across this interesting quiz on a blog titled “What Madonna Are You?

I was surprised to find so many interesting personality profiles attached to one person. Obviously, Madonna changes her image and hair color with every new album, but I never noticed the personality diversity. It’s astonishing to see how different one persona has been from another, and I realized there’s a treasure trove of personality arch types here. I think you could pull three individual characters from this list into one book, and no one would ever realize they were all patterned off the Material Girl.

If you’re looking for inspiration for a female character, take a look through the list below. And, for anyone who’s curious, it turns out that I’m the “No Pants Madonna.” Who knew?

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Even Hitler loved his dogs: the bad guy is the good guy in his own story

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At Sleuthfest, I attended a class by Wallace Stroby, the author of ‘Kings of Midnight‘ and ‘Shoot the Woman First,’ among others. Titled “Good Bad Guys and Bad Good Guys,” he made a great statement that “even Hitler loved his dogs.”

In Stroby’s books, his hero Crissa Stone (the cold but not stone-cold career criminal) must distinguish between the good bad guys and the bad bad guys. And actually Crissa falls somewhere in that range herself. His point was that the antagonist in well-written mystery-suspense fiction must be more grey, than black. If the bad guy is a human being, he can’t be pure, unadulterated evil. (Obviously, fantasy and horror can feature non-human antagonists who love to be mean just because they can.) Human antagonists though will have some redeeming character traits, and must be motivated by a cause that they feel is just. Or, at least justified. The bad guy is the good guy in his own story.

Most good bad guys have a common element. They are so blinded by their own agenda that they loses perspective of right and wrong. Greed is always all consuming. However, a bad guy with a good motive, such as protecting a child, saving a loved one, avenging a past wrong, protecting an environment or a way of life, adds a whole ‘nother dimension.

John Hammond from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park is an example of noble intentions gone wrong. His personality was changed from a cold eccentric CEO in the book to a more caring sympathetic grandfather who wanted to leave a legacy in the 1993 movie. Dolores Claiborne, Stephen King’s psychological thriller, features a woman who murdered her abusive husband after she learns that he molested their fourteen-year-old daughter. She wasn’t evil; she was protecting her daughter. Perhaps one of the strongest examples in literature is Heathcliff, from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. His all-consuming passion for Catherine destroys both himself and those around him.

Ultimately, the antagonist’s desire becomes so strong and so over-powering, that he can no longer empathize with any alternative view point, and has justified his actions for that “greater good.” There’s been numerous examples of this in recent comic book movies, from Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins, wanting to eliminate the rampant greed and corruption in Gotham City, to  Magneto in X-Men, who starts a revolution for mutant rights. In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, Alma Coin is the leader of the rebellion against the Capitol but has a special dislike for Katniss because she wanted Peeta rescued from Quarter Quell instead. That anger leads to hate and ultimately gets the best of her. And again in literature, Madame Thérèse Defarge, from Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, is so committed to the revolution that she becomes a brutal and cold blooded killer.

Sometimes, evil is matter of perspective. That idea was eloquently articulated by Senator Palpatine, in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, when he explained to Anakin Skywalker that “Good is a point of view.” Dolores Umbridge, from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, is another case in point. She’s evil only by our (the reader’s) standards. From her perspective, she’s the hero. As is Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes’ femme fatale. She is witty, resourceful and diabolical, but only when she has to be. Going hand in hand with perspective, evil can stem from the character’s history. Frank Burke, in Stroby’s Shoot the Woman First is the product of a depressed economy that encourages crime.

Stroby’s point was well taken, that often the best villains don’t see themselves as evil. Even Hitler didn’t laugh maniacally, wring his hands, and declare that he was evil.

Check out some great sites on the subject:

Villains Wiki: www.villains.wikia.com
50 Movie Villains Who Were Probably Right‘ by George Wales on TotalFilm.com

Seven Archetypes to create a memorable villain

canstockphoto4631531It’s said that for a hero to be truly good, his enemy must be even better. Thus, a gripping story must have a well-written, memorable villain; someone who really challenges the hero and earns the reader’s respect. I’ve been considering this for weeks as I start writing a new mystery novel, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw Entertainment Weekly had published a sidebar about Villainous Archetypes. 

In the article, they list the Archetypes as:

  • The Snubbed Sibling
  • The Femme Fatale
  • The Power Monger
  • The Lethal Frenemy
  • The Vengeful One
  • The Nemesis
  • The Psychotic  (Well, I added the last two….)

Obviously there are more archetypes than those listed, and I think the really well-written villains can cross over into multiple categories. Still, this makes for a descent start.

*** WARNING SPOILERS BELOW ***

The Snubbed Sibling
Villains who are the older/younger brother or sister of the hero. They lash-out because of feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and entitlement toward their beloved sibling. In general, they feel less loved. Interesting to note, they are not always biologically related; some are half-, step- or adopted.
Examples:

  • Cain, jealous of his brother Abel, Genesis, The Bible
  • Hades, angry at his brothers Zeus & Poseidon, Greek Mythology
  • Morgana le Fey, half-sister to King Arthur, The Knights of the Round Table
  • Prince John, resentful younger brother of King Richard the Lionhearted, Robin Hood
  • Edmund, illegitimate son of Gloucester, Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • Lore, evil twin brother of Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Scar, Mufasa’s jealous & resentful younger brother, Disney’s The Lion King
  • Loki, Thor’s jealous & resentful adopted brother, Marvel Comics

The Femme Fatale
A beautiful, seductive, but ultimately villainous, woman who uses the malign power of her sexuality to ensnare the hapless hero into danger. They are sly, morally ambiguous, conflicted between their needs and doing what’s “right” and often have a love/hate relationship with the Protagonist.
Examples:

  • Salome, the Christian icon of dangerous female seductiveness, The Gospels, The Bible
  • Delilah, Samson’s lover & ultimately his downfall, Judges, The Bible
  • Circe, dangerous sorceress who fell in love with Odysseus, Homer’s The Odyssey
  • Lady Macbeth, Ambitious wife of the general with her own designs on the throne, Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Sam Spade’s less than forthcoming client, Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon
  • Irene Adler – Sherlock Holmes’ romantic foil, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Scandal in Bohemia
  • Cora Smith, Lana Turner’s unhappy housewife in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
  • Rose Loomis, Marilyn Monroe’s sad lover in Niagra (1953)
  • Breathless Mahoney, Madonna’s gangster moll playing Dick and Big Boy against each other in Dick Tracy (1990)
  • Catherine Trammel, Sharon Stone’s novelist with a murderous past in Basic Instinct (1992)
  • Selena Kyle, Anne Hathaway’s cat burglar in The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Power Monger
Villains who seek to rule with sheer force or whose main goal is to obtain more power, any way possible. Nothing stands in their way. Above all else, they have a deep-seeded desire to surround themselves with control, authority, attention and self-imposed importance. Often this blinding, insatiable craving proves to be their downfall.
Examples:

  • King Herod the Great, committed unspeakable crimes to gratify his ambition, Matthew, The Bible
  • King Richard the Third, the treacherous king who wasn’t very nice to his family – Shakespeare’s Richard III
  • Napoleon, the Stalin-esque Berkshire Boar who always gets his way, George Orwell’s Animal Farm
  • Virgil “The Turk” Sollozzo,  the top narcotics man in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
  • Professor James Moriarty – a mathematics professor turned the world’s only consulting criminal – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes
  • Sauron – the dark lord who sought to rule Middle Earth – Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • Lord Voldemort,  the dark lord who obsesses over conquering  both worlds, Muggle and Wizarding, to achieve pure blood dominance – JK Rowling’s Harry Potter
  • Jafar, the Grand Vizier who plots to possess the Genie’s lamp and rule all of Agrabah – Disney’s Aladdin
  • General Zod, after a failed attempt to take over his homeworld, this Kryptonian super villain tries to take over earth – Superman (1978), Superman II (1980), Man of Steel (2013)
  • Emperor Palpatine –  the aged, wrinkled-faced dictator of the Galactic Empire – Star Wars, the original trilogy (1977 – 1983)

The Lethal Frenemy
Frenemies are fun to write, because they are an enemy disguised as a friend. They lead the plot to the inevitable dramatic betrayal. He or she is friendly toward the Protagonist because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment, rivalry or entitlement. Sometimes the Reader knows this, which creates tension and suspense as the hero stumbles dumbfounded into the Frenemy’s web. Sometimes neither the reader nor the hero realize the frenemy’s treachery, and then it’s the book’s big plot twist.
Examples:

  • Haman the Agagite, trusted ally to the King & Queen, he plots a secret massacre – Book of Esther, The Bible
  • Judas, loved Apostle, he sells Jesus’ whereabouts to the Romans – New Testament, The Bible
  • Brutus, Julius Caesar’s friend and confident and most famous assassin – Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
  • Macbeth, King Duncan’s general who plots to take the the throne for himself – Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • George Wickham – Mr. Darcy’s childhood friend who is actually spreading gossip – Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • Annie Wilkes, Author Paul Sheldon’s #1 fan – Stephen King’s Misery
  • Dennis Nedry, John Hammond’s computer programmer who was secretly paid to steal dinosaur embryos, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park
  • Lucy Van Pelt, the crabby, cynical eight year old who bullies Linus and Charlie Brown – Peanuts
  • Alexandra Forrest, Glenn Close’s blackmailing, stalking and obsessive Other Woman – Fatal Attraction (1987)
  • Miranda Tate, A member of the Wayne Enterprises executive board who harbors a deep resentment toward Batman for killing her father – The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • Senator Palpatine – the middle-aged politician of the Galactic Republic who plays both the Jedi and the Separatist Movement to rise to power – Star Wars, the Prequel Trilogy (1999 – 2005)

The Vengeful One
Villains who commit their crimes under the premise of vengeance, whether it be for a wrong committed against them or their people. The Vengeful One is similar to a nemesis, but with a few differences:  the villain may be misinformed and only think the hero has wronged him or her, or the wrong was committed by someone entirely separate from the Hero, but the Hero must still deal with the villain’s wrath.
Examples:

  • Hera – Greek goddess known for her jealous and vengeful nature, most notably against Zeus’s lovers and offspring – Greek Mythology
  • Iago, passed over for a promotion, he makes Othello believe his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful, Shakespeare’s Othello
  • Abigail Williams, teenage maid who accuses her lover’s wife of being a witch so she can have him all to herself – Arthur Millers The Crucible
  • Michael Corleone – Mob boss who puts a hit on the abusive husband of his godson and makes a reputation for himself as being even more cunning and ruthless than his father – Mario Puzo’s The Godfather
  • Kissin’ Kate Barlow, Devastated by her black lover’s death at the hands of racists, she becomes the most feared outlaw in the west – Louis Sachar’s Holes
    Max Cady, a sadistic genius seeks vengeance against a former public defender whom he blames for his 14-year imprisonment  – Cape Fear (1960, 1991)
  • Pennywise the Dancing Clown, A monster that preys on the kids of Derry targets the adults who banished it twenty years ago as children – Stephen King’s It
  • Carrie White, an outcast, loathed and taunted by her fellow students, gets even at the school prom – Stephen King’s Carrie
  • Maleficent, after not being invited to a royal christening by the parents, she curses the infant Princess Aurora – Disney’s Sleeping Beauty
  • Lady Walthum – an aristocrat who wants revenge on Tarzan for killing her brother (at least, in her own mind) – Disney’s The Legend of Tarzan
  • Khan, a super-human madman who was exiled by Captain Kirk – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1981)
  • Freddy Krueger – a razor-fingered spirit attacks the teen children of the parents who burned him alive – Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elmstreet (2010)
  • Two-Face, insane district attorney who blames Batman for killing his love, Rachel Dawes – The Dark Knight (2008)

The Nemesis
A Nemesis is an enemy that was created by the Hero’s own actions. In other words, if it wasn’t for the hero, this villain wouldn’t even exist (or at least wouldn’t be an evil do’er.) The nemesis is often the mirror opposite of the hero, and a representation of how the Hero could’ve turned out under different pressures, environment or circumstances.
Examples:

  • Grendel’s Mother, the angry monster that destroyed the hall and pursued Beowulf after the hero killed her son – Beowulf
  • Draco Malfoy,Harry rejects his offer of friendship and their mutual antagonism is born – JK Rowling’s Harry Potter
  • Gollum, Bilbo Baggins finds the Ring and takes it for his own, and Gollum afterwards pursues it for the rest of his life – Tolkein’s The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings
  • Sheriff of Nottingham, the heroic outlaw steals from the rich and gives to the poor; the unscrupulous sheriff is in assiduous pursuit – Robin Hood
  • Lex Luthor – a young Clark Kent attempts to save his friend from a laboratory explosion, but the chemicals create power-mad evil genius – Superman Comics

The Psychotic
Villains who have no clear motivation, other than they are just deranged, insane or mentally ill, can be especially frightening. Their violent actions are written off to a psychotic nature, meaning there’s no rhyme or reason for the chaos they create. This unpredictable behavior creates chilling suspense. And, of course, a back story will reveal a more sophisticated character,
Examples:

  • Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist who leads a double life as a cannibalistic serial killer – Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon & Silence of the Lambs
  • Norman Bates, a mild mannered motel clerk who stabs women to death while wearing his mother’s clothing – Robert Bloch’s Psycho (and of course Hitchock’s classic movie)
  • Bob Ewell, drunkard, abusive father who accuses Tom Robinson of raping his daughter – Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird (and of course the classic movie)
  • Frank Booth, a sociopathic gangster with split personalities who begs to be gagged with a piece of blue velvet cloth – Blue Velvet (1986)
  • Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic hitman who gives his victims a second chance by flipping a coin and letting fate decide if he should spare them or not – Cormac McCarthey’s No Country for Old Man
  • Alex, a sociopath who thoroughly enjoys robbing, raping, and murdering, and is puzzled by those who want to reform him  – Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
  • Jack Torrence, An alocholic with anger issues becomes possessed and terrorizes his family – Stephen King’s The Shining
  • John Doe, Serial killer who chooses victims according to the Seven Deadly Sins – Se7en (1995)
  • John Ryder, a hitchhiker with a sadistic drive for killing everyone and anyone he comes across in his ultimate quest to find the right person to murder him – The Hitcher (1986)
  • The Joker, maniacal, clown faced psychopath with a warped, sadistic sense of humor – Batman comics & films