Some would say that to have an exceptional hero, one needs to have an exceptional villain. The villain is that character who represents the complete antithesis of the protagonist, the one who not only opposes, but actively seeks to thwart the hero. Because the role of the villain in fiction is so complex, this essay will focus solely on one aspect of this character archetype: the introduction of the villain.
Arguably, the villain is the most important character in the story, with the exception of the hero. In certain select instances, say for example King Kong, the villain actually eclipses even the protagonist as the most important character. Being that the villain registers this level of importance, care must be taken when composing the scene in which they are introduced to convey to the audience the weight the villain carries. Due to the various ways the composition of the villain can be formatted, there are several different methods available for the introduction of this character archetype:
The Blatant Introduction
Picture this: a group of people are at a party. Suddenly, a gust of wind blows the door open, and a figure in a dark cape enters the room, much to the horror of the other guests. Even the most clueless of readers will recognize that the villain has entered the story. This approach is best used when it is necessary to convey the hero/villain conflict quickly. Also, keep in mind that all fiction requires balance. If the villain has been introduced immediately as thoroughly evil, it is necessary that the hero be quickly introduced as thoroughly good.
The Subtle Introduction
The subtle introduction is best used when the villain is depicted as calculating and manipulative. A solid way to convey his/her scheming personality is to introduce them as cordial, even friendly to the hero, only to soon after passive aggressively harm them in some way. The subtle method allows the reader to slowly “discover” that they are being introduced to the villain without having the fact thrown directly into their face. The subtle introduction also carries with it a distinct mark of realism, as even a villain is unlikely to “show his hand” right from the start.
The Shadow Introduction
In certain instances, the author conceals the identity of the villain to heighten suspense around the character. In keeping with this, the villain is only partially introduced as a shadowy, unnamed figure who lurks around in the background. The advantage to the shadow introduction is that in addition to heightening reader curiosity, the anonymity provided allows the author to morph the villain into whomever they choose, even an existing character. The shadow introduction is intriguing in that it adds a deeper level of sinister appearance to the villain, as most people are wary of things they do not know or understand completely.
The Invisible Introduction
The invisible introduction occurs when an author introduces a character and for a time completely conceals the fact that the character is in fact the villain of the story. In this instance, there is nothing different from the introduction of any other character, save possibly some very subtle hints. The invisible introduction ensures a plot twist further down the road for the reader and is an invaluable way to heighten suspense.
One point to keep in mind when introducing the villain is that first impressions are crucial. What feeling do we receive when we first meet the villain? This is probably the feeling we will carry with us throughout the course of the story. Structure the dialogue of these introduction scenes carefully, and make full use of imagery, symbolism, and foreshadowing. Above all, keep in mind the purpose of the villain: the villain provides contrast to the hero. Memorable villains are necessary to ensure memorable heroes. Make every word count.