While we’re on the subject of villains…one way to get a handle on your mystery is to get a handle on your villain.
Your killer (or any other criminal) should be fully developed before your story even opens. That is to say, he won’t be changing over the course of the novel. Everything that has contributed to your villain’s life of crime has already happened, especially because, by the time your story opens, the crime will have already been committed or will be committed very soon. So it makes sense to create a comprehensive character sketch of your villain before he sets foot on the page.
The best place to start is with the most significant event in the killer’s life that directly affects your story–AKA the murder or other terrible crime that needs to be solved. You can learn more about this event and get a feel for your villain’s voice by conducting an interview with him.
A few ways to do this is by establishing the scene as:
- A police interrogation after being arrested
- A written statement after confessing to the crime
- A courtroom trial with testimony and cross-examination
- A deathbed confession
- A confession to a clergyman
- A confrontation with the sleuth (amateur or otherwise), possibly in the moment he’s caught
Or you can get creative and have your villain apply for a job with Killers For Hire and get called back for an interview.
The idea with any of these interviews is to establish not only your murderer’s character but the details of the mystery as well.
Consider asking the following questions in your interview to establish the motive, method, and opportunity of the crime:
Who was the victim and what was the nature of your relationship?
Where did the murder take place and why this particular place?
What time did it occur? What was the weather like?
What were you wearing? Were you trying to blend in or avoid being seen?
How did you get there? How did you get away?
How much planning was involved?
What weapon did you use, if any, and why that particular one?
Where did you get it or who did you get it from?
Have you ever used that weapon before? Did you need special training to use it?
Did the weapon deliver a swift death or a long, slow, tortured process?
What wounds were inflicted?
How long have you planned the killing or was it a crime of opportunity?
Were there any accomplices?
Were there any witnesses that you know of?
Was this your first kill? If not, how old were you when it happened? How did the killing make you feel?
What did you do with the victim? Did you leave the body there, mutilate it, bury it, drown it, burn it, pour chemicals over it, leave it for the vultures?
I know this may sound scary to some of you pantsers out there, but trust me, once you decide who your killer is and figure out the what, where, why, when, and how of your murder, writing the rest will be cake. Even Dame Agatha Christie knew her killers and how she wanted her novels to end before she began writing.
So what does your killer have to say for himself?