I’ve edited a lot of novels lately that rely heavily on the villain’s point of view. Occasionally this can be an interesting way to add tension and suspense. It can also assist in conveying a complicated plot that would be confusing from only the good guy’s perspective. But often the villain’s point of view detracts from the story.
Outshining the Hero
We all love villains. We’re fascinated by monsters, serial killers, and double agents. But we’re not quite as inherently fascinated with the good guy. That’s because we all know what makes good guys tick.
Readers love puzzling out what makes some people do really bad things. So if you’re including the villain’s point of view, you’re working with readers’ natural fascination with the bad guy. If you don’t successfully present an even more fascinating good guy, the book won’t sit with readers the way you want it to. The villain could push the hero into the sidelines.
If you clue the reader in on the villain’s plans, it’s possible to zap the suspense out of the novel. Rather than wondering what’s going on along with the good guy, the reader is simply waiting for the good guy to catch up with what they already know. This not only cuts suspense, but it can also make the good guy look unintelligent. Since the reader knows the answer, they think the hero should too.
If the novel is a mystery, including the villain’s point of view can cut out all of the mystery elements. If we already know who the double agent is, why care about the good guy’s investigation?
Tips for Including the Villain’s Point of View
If the villain’s point of view is required to tell the story, here are some tips on how to do it right.
- Don’t linger on the villain. Give the hero substantially more “screen time.” Only use the villain’s point of view where it increases suspense.
- Let the hero reveal important information. If the hero is the one who keys the reader in on the big revelations, they’ll find the hero far more fascinating and important than the villain.
- Keep it vague. You can show the bad guy torturing the hero’s partner, but don’t tell us that it’s revenge for his mother’s death or that it’s in the abandoned childhood home of our hero. Snippets of intense situations increases our suspense, but answers zap it.
- Introduce other mysteries. If keeping it vague doesn’t work with the story, let the bad guy reveal what he’s doing and why, but introduce a different sort of mystery for the good guy to reveal. This could be a dark personal secret or another layer to the villain’s scheme.
- Fully characterize the hero. Don’t give us a good guy that’s just a hollow shell. He needs to have a personality with both good and bad qualities.
- Give the hero personal stakes. If the hero has nothing at stake other than solving the case/crime or stopping the bad guy, readers won’t care all that much if he succeeds. The key is to give the hero something personal at stake, something readers don’t want him to lose.
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