No Bones about Writing Bad Guys

When I outline bad guys for my novels, it often reads like a police rap sheet and a psychological profile.  I can’t overstate the effectiveness for research and outlining in fiction writing.  There’s always those little pieces of nuggets that you can weave into the story that gives it the added realism and authenticity.  These nuggets are like pieces of gold for me and I love hunting for them.

Research into creating new characters works well for me because I love learning new things that I didn’t know yesterday, but it can be a daunting task if you don’t enjoy the process.  I’ve managed to streamline my process a bit so that I don’t get overwhelmed with too much information and avoid a major time void sucking the life out of me.

I remember when I first began writing screenplays, it was quoted many times in books and from successful writers that you must love all of your characters–even the bad ones.  I embrace that simple task with every book project.

Writing is a learning process and you never know what you can truly accomplish until you dig deep into your imagination to create a devious bad guy or even a quirky supporting character bordering on bad.

I divide my bad guys into three main areas: physical, background, and psychological.  I approach my bad guys the same way whether they are a major character, supporting character or someone just mentioned in one chapter.


This is where I create the actual physical qualities of the character, what he/she looks like, mannerisms, specific characteristics, how he/she dresses, and even habits.  I begin to get a real picture in my mind how this person looks, walks, and talks.  It’s a writer’s character rap sheet with an added dimension that rolls through my mind.


It’s getting to be fun.  This is where I begin to develop a who they are with a history, life experiences, family, work environment, criminal activity, relationships, living conditions, education, and anything that wasn’t addressed in the physical area.


Now, I have an actual image of the character and some background information.   It’s endless in creating the mind of a bad guy and you can have so much fun with this area of writing.  This is no doubt my favorite step to creating a bad guy.   I like to have these characters answer a few questions for me, like what they would do if confronted with certain situations.  This also includes their internal and well as external conflicts.  Many of my bad guys are serial killers so they are skewed with distorted perceptions, beliefs, and lack of impulse control.  How fun is that?

In Dark Mind, I had a fun character challenge to create a serial killer that needed a background from the Hawaiian islands that included folklore beliefs and other interesting tidbits.  It was the opposite from my novel Dead Game, which I had to create an older serial killer with a military background and deep seeded neuroses.

The moral to creating bad guys?  Well, I make no bones about it and dive right in to creating their physical and psychological background and see what happens.

What’s been your favorite bad guy to create or read about?


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About jchasenovelist

Published thriller author, criminologist, and blogger.
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13 Responses to No Bones about Writing Bad Guys

  1. Huw Thomas says:

    I agree – even if you wouldn’t particularly want to meet your characters (particularly down a dark alley) you do have to care about them. If you don’t invest some ‘love’, you run the risk of just creating a cipher or cliche.
    I don’t go into the same depth with creating characters – I tend to sketch them out a bit more in my writing so readers can imagine for themselves how they look – but they’re still real to me.
    My novel ‘The Tale Of Findo Gask’ is about a young boy who becomes a thief out of necessity. I was surprised though when contacting agents a few years ago and one told me she didn’t like books where the protagonist was a criminal. She wanted everything to be on the side of the good guys. How boring!


  2. Pingback: Author Jennifer Chase with one of the best posts I’ve read on how to create (and love) your bad guys… « Thomas Rydder

  3. What an excellent article. Brief, but absolutely spot on…and sure to keep new authors like me from falling into the many pitfalls of character assassination..thanks Jennifer 🙂


  4. Kitt says:

    I especially liked your tip for categorizing your villains into three main areas. Following your advise will simplify things and allow the character to flow. Thanks!


  5. Ken Hoss says:

    Great post, Jennifer. This is one of my favorites when I write. Even though he only makes a cameo appearance in both books, Kelli’s arch nemesis, Miguel Garcia was fun to write. I did sketch out his character more in the second book, and really got a feel for how a Colombian drug lord would act in a given situation. And the research, absolutely love doing it. While working on book two, I learned so many new things about the Mexican drug cartels. Fascinating.


  6. That’s cool Ken 🙂 It is amazing what you learn when writing about bad guys.


  7. Pingback: Write in the Moment and Take That Fantastic First Plunge | Author Jennifer Chase

  8. Pingback: Think Like a Crime Scene Detective | Author Jennifer Chase

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