Monday, August 13, 2012

Beware the Bungling Bad Guy

I’ve written a great deal about bad guys and how to create them and use them, but one problem I see from other writers is defining the villain as a super menace then turning him into a bungling idiot so the good guy can keep escaping.

In the novel I just finished, the hired killer after the hero and his friends is billed as a professional killer with a military background who has killed dozens of people leaving no real trace.   In his first appearance, this assassin is in the audience of the man who is supposed to be his first victim in the story.  

The hero is a professional magician who supposedly reads the minds of the audience.  The assassin volunteers to be mind-read then tries and fails to kill the magician with a small pocket knife no self-respecting professional killer would use while a spotlight is on him in front of hundreds of witnesses.  

Later, the assassin has trouble killing an dottering, elderly couple, and the only way he can get to other victims who know he is after them is for them to be too stupid to live.  

Needless to say, this inept bad guy sucked the energy right out of the plot.

Don’t tell the reader that your bad guy is a super menace then have him show himself as worse than an amateur because you need the tension to keep the story moving forward.  Really put yourself in the bad guy’s shoes.  If he has a military background and training as an assassin, let him use it.  

Instead, let him fail through luck on the part of the good guys or a supposed victim’s unexpected skill or knowledge.  

Artificial suspense by telling rather than showing a bad guy’s skills is no suspense at all.