In my first posting about the television show, The Mentalist, and what it could teach about good writing, I spoke about the main character, Patrick Jane. Here's Lesson 2 pertaining to the importance of supporting characters. This week I want to talk about villains.
At the very beginning of each show, the CBI team is called in to investigate a murder. Then they proceed to probe and prod until they narrow down the suspects. Without a villain, the show would be very dull. There is definitely a formula to most of these shows. They have just enough time for three suspects and the true bad guy is rarely the first person they investigate. In mystery or suspense writing, keeping your reader guessing is crucial. You want them trying to figure it whodunnit along with your hero or heroine. If the answer is too obvious, they'll bail out on you.
Be sure to include interesting potential bad guys. Find some way for them to tie into the main event. Give them a motive for being involved. Make the real bad guy really bad. He or she needs to stand out from the crowd. They can be richer, more conniving, more hard hearted, merciless, more attractive, seemingly sweeter, needing more money, etc.
You might even have the most villainous villain. In the Mentalist, the one man that the protagonist Jane wants to catch most is Red John, the man who murdered his wife and child. It is his ultimate driving motivation--and motivation is very important. Without motivation, you will most likely end up with a bland story. Throughout the series Red John stays active. He periodically murders someone and Jane seems close to catching him often but Red John is very crafty and always gets away. He is ruthless and cruel and sadistic, and extremely dangerous. No one is safe near him and he uses pawns who believe in him, but then turns on them and often kills them too. It's this tantalizing tension of Jane and those who come close to him being endangered by this villain that makes the audience tune in from week to week. Will he ever catch him? That's the question. Work on developing good villains. They will hook your reader and keep them reading.