Most stories have a good guy and a bad guy. This much, we know. Not to say that there aren’t plenty of other options (the English degree in me is screaming “Man vs. Man, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Environment”!), but I would say that this is a pretty easy beginning for a lot of folks and, for the most part, the option on writing that we have written at least once.
When writers create works of horror, they aim to do one thing, no matter the bad guy – scare you. In movies this might not be as difficult or complex. Our reaction to what we see is almost immediate, where as in writing we don’t get that satisfaction. You really have to create something terrifying to you, then be able to convince the reader that what is stalking your protagonist through the woods on a dark night is scary as well. Which is a lot easier sad then done. Which is what leads me to these few pointers on making an effective villain in horror writing.
I will admit that, in my opinion, terror works better over horror. Horror is the reaction to something unfortunate or disturbing, while terror is that looming, disturbing feeling you get before the massacre happens. Me personally, I love to lay in bed at night, try to fall asleep, but not be able to because what I read is still haunting me and I am waiting for something bad to happen. It is the difference between a quick jump or, as I said before, reaction and the dread that I feel over a long period of time.
Making a villain that brings about terror takes practice however.
When making your villain, you want to target certain fears in people. So what are people afraid of? How can you hit that target? Depends on what your writing. We know that people are regularly afraid of what is different or outside of our normal. It makes people uncomfortable. We can start there.
Make your bad guy do something – even if they are a regular human – that is just a little different from the rest of society. It taunts the protagonist and the reader. Strange little details like this will make the reader ask questions, which only develops more thought into the character.
Why does he keep his fist clenched? Why is he always looking over his shoulder? Why is he counting his steps as he takes them?
Something is off about him and the reader will need to know what it is. The more they ask, the farther into the book they will read. Hopefully your story will be a s good as your hook!
Appearance makes a world of difference, obviously. You can creature a giant foaming-at-the-mouth monster with four brilliant claws on each hand, smeared in blood and….so on and so on…(not knocking monsters, but they aren’t this writers cup of tea), but for the terror aspect, you might want to not give it all away immediately, but still give enough that the reader can identify the thing. Again, the key is to give them questions, even when giving answers. Keep the pace.
There are certainly tropes that come along with horror/terror appearances – blood, bandages, old and torn clothing, poor hygiene, etc. – but I love to see people use this outlet to show off their true creativity.
One of my favorite characters I ever wrote (coming soon in my new novel, which is almost done) is Johnny Thunder. Johnny is a man who hosts a television show…or something of the sort. He is no more or less human than you and I but dresses in his campy green suit, appears pale and frail (in the story he is compared to a character just before they succumbed to cancer), and has a smile that is too large for his face.
Just with that description, you want to know more about this guy. What kind of show does he host? Is he sick? What happened to him? What makes him evil?
(That last question is quickly answered in the story, I promise)
Reasons for what they do also play a big role in making your baddy something really horrifying. If you give a character an unreasonable or strange reason to do what they do, it boggles the mind of your reader and can make them more afraid – or even angry – with your villain. And that’s a good thing. If they can’t relate to him/her/it, they will see it as absurd and different, wanting your much more relatable protagonist to come out on top.
Give the villain control over…everything. What makes your monster/creature/bad man/etc scary is the fact that the fate of your protagonist is in its hands. That will make your readers stomach turn, which is what you want. Make it kill some well-developed good guys. Make it twist the plot. Make it the one calling the shots, eliminating the candle of hope for your good guy. It’ll make folks sweat.
Also, it is good to remember that you don’t want to overdue it. Don’t make them annoying. Have others read your story and see if they get frightened or just bothered by your villain. If it is the latter, do some rewriting. Get details of what they didn’t like so you can make those changes. Never be afraid to make changes!
Oh, and just so it’s said, don’t let these words restrict your writing. Be creative, have fun, and if you want to create a slashing, crazy, no-creep, all-gore super monster GO FOR IT! Just keep writing!
(above image from thehollywoodoutsider.com)