Who is the loathsome villain in Blackhorse Road that makes our protagonist, Luci, shine in the end?
To avoid a spoiler, I will not share who plays the villain. But I will share the five thresholds that any villain of mine must cross before being worthy of the role!
The first bar is that my villain must be relatable. I ask myself, What is the villain's hook? What draws the readers to the villain's web? Who in the reader's life might the villain represent. It could be a crazy uncle, an overcontrolling parent, a bully, an unfaithful spouse, a deceitful friend, a competitive sibling. On the other hand, the villain can easily be an inanimate object that dredges up readers' visceral feelings—a storm, a sickness, a haunted house, an imaginary monster. Haven't most of us been there?
The next threshold is all about relationships. My villain has to have a close personal connection with the hero. Whether the villain is a person or an inanimate object, the relationship between the hero the villain must make the reader feel the connection, too. The villain must get into the hero's space, in her head, and obstruct her way, and readers must feel the villain getting into their space, in their heads, and obstructing them too.
The villain has to be a strong adversary. In other words, the villain must be a worthy opponent—no sissies or milk toasts for my heroes!
The villain must push the reader's buttons, making the reader want to reach into the book's pages and shake sense into or evil out of the villain.
The final threshold is that the villain must evoke readers' empathy—there's something more to villains than painting them in evil. This doesn't mean that readers excuse the villain's behaviors or fail to demand justice for the hero. Instead, it means that readers must grow with the hero. Readers must walk the same path as the hero in transformation and come to understand the villain's perspective and what makes the villain tick. Blackhorse Road will make readers hate the villain. But it also leaves many breadcrumbs along the hero's path so that readers come to understand the villain and hopefully have a wee bit of empathy for the villain even as they celebrate the hero.