Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Naming the Unnamable – Villains of the Piece

I present to you the following proposition: villains need thoughtful, interesting names too. Why? So you can exact one of the precious rewards of writing: putting your childhood bully, unfavourite cousin, and mean boss into your writing. Or, at the very least, have fun with it.


We all have a nemesis. Whether it was that ‘friend’ that told all of your secrets in high school or the girl who ultimately married the ex-boyfriend you weren’t quite over, you have someone whose name makes you pause, remember, and grimace.

Why not put this person into your book? Make her the rival to your heroine, the one who will show her true (wicked) colours at the end and lose the hero. Or the colleague your heroine must avoid while she tries to navigate her work days, the one who will make up vicious lies about her behind her back.

But…(and this is a big but), Do not use real names. As with any work of fiction, we don’t want to use someone who is recognizable as themselves. While every writer will take inspiration from the people around them, it is not allowed for you to simply tweak a few character traits, make the person largely anonymous, and plunk them down into your story. Doing that is a surefire way to run the risk of litigation. When in doubt, talk to your editor and/or publisher. Consult a lawyer. You can still get your revenge while avoiding those pesky defamation lawsuits.

So how do you put your nemesis into your book if, legally, you can’t?

You use a version of their name on an otherwise unrelated and unrecognizable character. This is easier when your nemesis has a common name. You can simply turn Amy Angel into Amy Gelinas (but not Amy Devlin – too obvious). Again, don’t make the character look like or talk like the real person.

If your nemesis has a name like Elizanne Judson-Laforest, you may still not be out of luck. Try initials in that case as a source of inspiration. Edna Jane Lorrimer may be the evil boss your character butts heads with every day, although the “Jane” may never actually be mentioned in the book.

Try it. It’s cathartic. And much cheaper than therapy.

Photo courtesy of Pixomar at


  1. That's an excellent tip! I've already got a few candidates! Thank you :D

  2. Ha ha! I think we all do ;)

    Thanks for dropping by.