writing rich villains

Page Time for Adult Villains in YA Fiction?


Dear Editor…

Here’s a problem I’d like your advice on. I understand wanting to keep my YA novel from a younger perspective, but my villains are adults. I hate flat villains so I wanted to give some back story. How much time do I spend on the adult antagonist?

Thank you,
Oldies But Baddies

Dear Oldies But Baddies…

Bring on the adult antagonists, and let them have their page time! One of my favorite books, The Golden Compass, does this well. (Readers, your favs?) The key to finding your screen time balance: This is a young protagonist’s story, written for young people to read, so commit yourself to putting the focus on your teen characters, always. And don’t fall into the trap of thinking backstory will deepen your antagonists. In fact, being stingy with info about motivations and circumstances can enhance the mystery of your bad guys and their nefarious deeds, making us wonder about them. As we wonder, tease us with blips of insight, show them emoting, give them non-stereotypical traits and behaviors, and reveal both their strengths and flaws. I’ve got a big essay about crafting rich antagonists here. Be frugal with upfront backstory, and make the most of the screen time you grant them.

Happy writing!
The Editor