How to Get to the Heart of a Villain

A writing tip from Susann Cokal

My tip is about villains, who are so easy to hate and turn to caricatures with twirling mustaches or goofy bowties or odd personal odors. That's kind of their job, but they need more in order to hold readerly (and writerly) interest. To get myself into the mind and heart of a villain, and make that person real to me, I base him/her on an old boyfriend. The old boy- or girlfriend is an invaluable treasure, as you once cared enough about this person to be in a relationship, but most of the caring ended and now you can see the really ANNOYING (read: evil) aspects of the person’s character. So my old sweethearts get to keep their good qualities, or at least their looks, and the very worst sides of their selves make it into a story that needs a nice engine of evil driving the plot. (Should I admit this? You know who you are, dudes and dudettes.)


Susann Cokal is a moody historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and professor of creative writing and modern literature. Her new magnum opus is The Kingdom of Little Wounds, set in the Scandinavian Renaissance.

A young seamstress and a royal nursemaid find themselves at the center of an epic power struggle in this stunning young-adult debut. On the eve of Princess Sophia’s wedding, the Scandinavian city of Skyggehavn prepares to fete the occasion with a sumptuous display of riches: brocade and satin and jewels, feasts of sugar fruit and sweet spiced wine. Yet beneath the veneer of celebration, a shiver of darkness creeps through the palace halls.

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

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