Wednesday, June 17, 2015

3 A Girl Undone: 10 Tips for Writing Unforgettable Villains with Catherine Linka

We're thrilled to welcome to the blog today author Catherine Linka. Catherine's A Girl Undone, the sequel and explosive conclusion to A Girl Called Fearless, comes out in one week! She's here to share with us some tips for writing unforgettable villains.

10 Tips for Writing Unforgettable Villains

A great protagonist deserves a great villain. Villains make our main characters struggle and stretch, and while they often force our protagonists to confront the worst about themselves, villains push our protagonists to be their best.

Too often villains are written as cliches: evil for the sake of being evil, and motivated strictly by a desire for power. Brute force is the cliche’s only weapon, and firepower the only thing that will take them down.

But a well-developed villain, think Iago, Nurse Ratched, or Snape, is a compelling character who takes the story to an entirely new level. And the protagonist can’t rely on force, but has to be smarter, stronger and more creative to overcome them.

1. Know what the villain desires and why.

It’s not enough to want power--where does that consuming hunger come from? Try to imagine what in your character’s history led to this moment. Housekeeper Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca torments the new wife who’s replaced her former mistress, because she’s motivated by love and a desire for revenge.

2. Use details that defy our expectations of what a villain is like.

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter appears grandmotherly with her cardigans and kitty plates, but that makes her truly scary when she ruthlessly punishes Harry and his friends.

3. Seduce the hero.

Great villains can pretend to be the hero’s friend and use their emotional weakness against them. The White Witch in the Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe lures Edmund into her sleigh with the promise of Turkish Delight and makes him her ally when she plays into his hunger to be important after his brother and sisters exclude him.

4. Reveal their human side.

Cold, calculating Rachel from Orphan Black secretly longs for a family. Denied a child of her own, she kidnaps her sister’s. Snape’s unrequited love for Lily adds complexity to his feelings for Harry Potter. Seeing a villain display human emotion makes them feel more real, and can prompt readers to see that they, too, have the potential for evil.

5. Create a horrifying link between the hero and villain. 

Who can forget, “Luke, I am your father?” The shocking discovery that Luke was the son of Darth Vader added new dimensions to both characters--making both hero and villain more interesting. 

6. Give the villain an unusual vulnerability.

The Wicked Witch of the West is melted by a harmless bucket of water. The all-powerful Voldemort cannot defeat the love that protects Harry. Unexpected weaknesses make the villain more human--and can give the story thematic resonance. By making love more powerful than magic, Rowling elevates her story to a new level.

7. Threaten the protagonist with a loss worse than death.

Losing your child, lover, friends, freedom, sanity, history, humanity or soul can be more terrifying than death. In The Golden Compass, Mrs. Coulter destroys children’s independence and creativity by severing the psychic bond between them and their animal daemons. Readers feel Lyra’s physical and emotional agony when she and her daemon Pan struggle against the specially-devised guillotine

8. Give the villain powers that go beyond guns, spells or martial arts.

The unforgettable Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest dominates and humiliates patients on her ward. She withholds meds and privileges, and tames patients with electroshock. But one of her most shocking abuses is when she threatens to call a fragile patient’s mother to shame him for having sex.

9. Find the sanity in their insanity.

Villains may believe their mission is moral, just and rational, so they can be even scarier when the reader sees them twist logic or ethics to support their actions.  

10. Put your protagonist and villain in the same room.

If the hero only sees the villain from afar, it’s hard to create a compelling portrait of the antagonist. Only when the two have direct contact can the writer reveal the villain’s real personality. Voldemort may be all powerful, but he’s not around. Snape is the villain who’s more intriguing.

About The Book:

A Girl Undone (A Girl Called Fearless, #2)On the run with deadly government secrets, Avie must decide if she can live up to her name and truly become fearless for the cause or if it’s better to just give in.

The sequel and explosive conclusion to A Girl Called Fearless.

Having survived a violent confrontation with the US government, Avie is not out of danger. Both she and the young man she loves, Yates, have been declared terrorists, and Yates is hospitalized in critical condition, leaving Avie with the perilous task of carrying information that can bring down the Paternalist party, if she can get it into the right hands.

Forced on the run with handsome, enigmatic woodsman Luke, Avie struggles when every turn becomes a choice between keeping the two of them alive or completing their mission. With her face on every news channel and a quarter million dollar reward from the man who still owns her marriage Contract, Avie’s worst fears are about to come true.

Equal parts thrilling and romantic, A Girl Undone is sure to keep your heart racing right until the very end.

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads

Haven’t read A Girl Called Fearless? Get the e-book for just $2.99 until 6/30 from your favorite e-bookseller. 

About The Author:

Catherine Linka is the author of the Fearless duology: A Girl Called Fearless and A Girl Undone which have been optioned for television. She’s thrilled by complex villains, and totally adored writing the character of Streicker in A Girl Undone, because who doesn’t love a seductive, dangerous smuggler who plays by his own set of rules. Catherine did her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and spent 7 years as a YA buyer for an indie bookstore.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads  

~ posted by Jen Fisher @cupcakegirly


  1. Fantastic tips, much to think about--and with great examples of well-rounded villains. Thanks, Catherine!!

  2. Wonderful post. Thanks for these great tips. I will be linking to this on my blog.

  3. Those are really good tips. I especially like the "find sanity in their insanity" idea. It's all about perspective and complexity. A good villain is at least as interesting as the hero.


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