Posted by: nancycurteman | June 29, 2011

The Best Mystery Novel Villain is not Villainous

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A mystery novel villain is best when he is not villainous. When she is the one that least resembles our stereotypical image of a villain. Why? Because mystery novel readers thrive on the unexpected. Sometimes writers paint their criminals as ugly blackguards with no saving graces at all. They forget that most people have at least some virtues. Mystery fans no longer relish the old melodramatic “hiss the villain” type of character. In fact, the more unlikely the antagonist, the better. Today’s mystery writer might write an antagonist who

• appears helpful—even to her victims.

• is in a “helping” profession—nurse, doctor, teacher, minister, cop.

• has pleasing personality traits—good sense of humor, polite, considerate, modest.

• has an average, even attractive appearance as opposed to evil eyes and a vicious grin.

• is good to dogs, kids and elderly ladies.

• has internal conflicts about the crime he has to commit even though he believes he has no other choice.

• is the kind of person anyone would like to have as friend.

Mystery writers should keep in mind that an appealing character who turns out to be the murderer is a great twist. The best villain is not villainous.

More writing tips:

Developing Characters is No Mystery

How to Create Sympathetic Mystery Novel Characters

How to Create Minor Characters in Your Mystery Novel

The Romantic  Heroine in a Mystery Novel


  1. Well said, Nancy. I quite agree with this.
    Actually, if you think about how “dastardly villains” are portrayed in most films, they are soft-spoken, polite, actually rather nice.
    It is often the heroes who are foul-mouthed, brutal, and the like.
    But then, that’s Hollywood turning things on their ear for effect.


    • Interesting observation. I’ll have to look for that.


  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head again, NC! Most antagonists in the mysteries I’ve read are the “last” person you would expect.

    If you wrote a mystery with Osama Bin Laden as the antagonist . . . it wouldn’t be a mystery. 😀


  3. This is a very interesting post…I will certainly keep your advice in mind. Goodness knows what lies beneath the pyche of a good literary villan.


  4. Thankyou for checking in on my blog. it is a random set of thoughts but it’s helping me find my storytelling vibe.


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