The Villain Reveal: Three Different Approaches

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by Jonathan Vars 

A dark figure emerges from the shadows. In a raspy voice, he taunts the hero, having once again bested him. Stepping into the light, the figure thrusts back his hood, revealing the face of…

               Sound familiar?

Every story of good vs. evil story needs a villain revelation scene; a sequence in which the great mastermind behind the evil plot is revealed for who he/she is. In many instances, this can be the critical moment of the story: the “hot point” of the climax in which the hero comes face to face with his/her nemesis. Being that this moment is so key to both the climax and the story as a whole, it is crucial that you are equipped with the right tools to bring the moment to a crashing crescendo, as a poorly written revelation can crash the story at its most critical point.

Of course, you should keep in mind that there are many different ways to construct a villain revelation scene. Choosing the right option is often half the battle. Here are three potential ways you can reveal the villain in your story:

The Classic Reveal

“The hooded figure emerging from the shadows”

“The dark lord, sitting high within his stone tower”

“The shifty eyed butler, standing at the other side of the detective’s pointing finger”

All of these are examples of the classic villain reveal. Though somewhat predictable, this approach follows the pattern with which we are most familiar, and most comfortable. The classic reveal works best with:

  • Murder mysteries
  • Action/adventure stories
  • Legal thrillers

The classic reveal is the culmination of the audiences’ expectations. When a reader starts the first chapter of a detective story, they read with an expectation of discovering the perpetrator’s identity by the last chapter. The classic reveal is, in essence, the fulfillment of an unspoken promise to the reader.

The Immediate Reveal

Although less common than the classic, the immediate reveal introduces the villain within the first few chapters. Rather than building suspense around the villain’s identity, the author heightens tension around the villain’s actions.

Keep in mind: the immediate reveal does not allow you as the writer to “skimp” on the crafting of the revelation scene. On the contrary, even more effort must be built into the tension of this scene, and the scenes immediately following. Just because the reader knows the villain’s identity doesn’t mean there can’t be suspense. Possible ways to build tension around this are:

  • Withhold the villain’s identity from the protagonist/other main characters
  • Place the villain in a symbolically “unreachable” place, where he/she can taunt the hero at will
  • Describe in detail the villain weaving his/her plot, right under the noses of the protagonists

Sometimes the most sinister evil is the evil in plain sight. The immediate reveal is key when the villain is a fully developed character, rather than a one-dimensional antagonist.

The Chameleon Reveal

The chameleon reveal is, in many instances, similar to the classic reveal with one major exception: the villain is revealed to be a previously established character. In many ways, this unique twist combines the classic and immediate reveal into one; encompassing the early character introduction of the immediate with the dramatic “unmasking” of the classic. The chameleon reveal works best with:

  • Espionage/spy stories
  • Murder mysteries
  • Psychological thrillers

The chameleon reveal is unique in that rather than introducing a character, you reintroduce them in a totally new light to the reader.

Though a clever writing strategy, this approach must be handled with meticulous skill. First, you must ensure that your character’s “new identity” does not fly in the face of who you have already constructed them to be. In other words, while it may seem like a clever twist to reveal dear old Mrs. Perkins as the Pitchfork Killer, you must first ensure that this makes sense, in regards to both physics and continuity. Also, while it is permissible to take some liberties in a fictionalized world, your villain revelation should still be plausible. Rather than causing your readers roll their eyes in disbelief, you should leave them thinking, “That actually makes sense.”

In the end, the villain revelation is your call as a writer. Whether you choose the classic, the immediate, the chameleon, or an entirely different approach, give it your all and don’t rush it. Remember, a scene like this can make or break a story. If written correctly, your villain revelation can be a skin-crawling, spine tingling experience for each and every one of your readers.

Jonathan Vars, authorJonathan Vars is a Christian fiction writer from New England, and founder of the writing website voltampsreactive.com. His latest novel “Like Melvin” is currently available on Amazon and Google Books. In addition to writing, Jonathan enjoys running, painting, and trying not to freeze to death in the winter.

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8 thoughts on “The Villain Reveal: Three Different Approaches

  1. I’ll have to check out some of Jonathan’s books.
    I’ve not used a definite villain in any of my stories. Mine tend to be more entities or just people standing in the way of what the main character wants.

    1. Hi Alex! Thanks for commenting. What type of stories do you write? Sometimes I find a definite villain is not necessary, and can even be distracting to the plot, depending on the nature of the story. Having an obstacle in the way of the main character is a perfectly legitimate dilemma.

  2. This is really helpful and interesting. There really different ways to reveal a fictional villain, and I think part of it has to do with the sort of story it is. So it’s really worth while to think about how, exactly, to go about it.

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