How to Write Scary Villains. Cody McFadyen

Cody McFadyen is the internationally bestselling author of four novels, each centered around FBI special agent Smoky Barrett, who hunts serial killers.

In his latest novel, Abandoned, the killer is his most terrifying yet (That’s all I’ll say about him. You’ll have to read the book for more.)

Here, Cody talks about how he comes up with the bad guys — and specifically with the psychopath for Abandoned:

I build my books around the bad guy. I have from the first. I remember making a conscious decision to build my bad guys a little bit outside the box – the box being the firm reality we all know and agree to be.


Because it’s a lot more fun to write about serial killers that way.

Think about it. Hannibal Lecter is a lot more interesting than Son of Sam. Hannibal is brilliant, complex, unclassifiable. He kills with finesse and precision. Son of Sam was an unhinged lunatic, blowing people away at random. As a character, Hannibal is much more interesting to write about (and read). Because true serial killers aren’t super villains. They’re disturbed, sordid individuals, driven by hungers and needs that usually destroy them from the inside out.

Why So Evil?

A lot of the time, they’re socially inept, and not very smart. Their depravity is most often senseless. Writing about what they do would be like writing about a great white shark: it eats because it is hungry and it has such big sharp teeth… you can’t sustain an entire novel on pure savagery. So I like for my bad guys to have a reason for what they do, some guiding purpose. Otherwise, all I’m doing is asking you to pull up a chair and watch the feast – and while something in our reptile brains might enjoy seeing a little bit of the feast, we shy away from the full truth of it.

So when I started thinking about Abandoned, the fourth book in my series, I started by thinking about my killer. I wanted to do something different, but what? The killers in the books earlier in the series had all been pretty ‘hungry’; in other words, they were appetite driven. ‘So what,’ I thought, ‘about a killer with no appetite at all?’

I actually rejected it at first, but the idea kept swimming back to the forefront. There was something terrifying about the idea of someone operating with such cold clarity. It was haunting me – which is always a good sign! I thought about it a lot and finally realized what (for me at least) makes such a killer so chilling: that kind of coldness relegates us to nothing, nothing at all.

Write What Terrifies You

The killer who is purposefully cruel, the killer who drools with excitement, still needs our humanity, at whatever level. There is a validation of our value as sentient, emotional beings, even if that only means they need our fear and our horror. It’s a terrible kind of ‘mattering’, but still, we matter.

In the world of the killer I envisaged, we don’t matter at all. There’s no intentional cruelty, no enjoyment of our suffering, no acknowledgment of the value of our existence. He assigns his victims numbers, because it’s a more economical use of oxygen than saying their names.

I saw him, he terrified me, and then I wrote him. He lies within the pages of Abandoned. It’s my hope he’ll terrify you as well.

Adapted from “You Suck, and That’s Sad,” by Cody McFadyen. Used with permission. To read more about Cody’s books, read his blog, and find out where he’ll be appearing next, please visit his website:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *