In many mystery novels, the villain is kept in the background. It is up to the reader to figure out who the villain is before the author announces the identity of this person near the end of the novel. Throughout the novel, readers are presented with various people who fit the description of the villain, whether in physical appearance or in terms of motive. Some of the characters may not be ideal for the villain, but the reader knows the point of the entire novel when the villain is finally revealed.

But sometimes, this reveal isn't as exciting as the novel has built it up to be.

Readers are disappointed with the results as they had put all of their faith into one particular character and the author ends up surprising them. Of course, some readers will have certain opinions about how the novel should unfold and then there's nothing that you can do about that as an author. However, you don't want to end up with the situation where you present the villain as being the least likely of people to do it. This is a common mistake and it can seriously ruin both the novel and your reputation as an author.

What does this even mean?

When you're talking about the least likely villain, you're talking about a character that you as the author have introduced to your readers in the wrong way.

Perhaps you are talking about the next-door neighbor and readers haven't been introduced to him at all. Maybe you're talking about a character who has been introduced but there's no motive and there's no reason for this person to have committed the crime. In other words, the villain just doesn't make sense to readers who have been reading your book and anticipating someone else.

Of course, authors try to build up a story that is credible and exciting. Sometimes this can be difficult as the author wants to introduce the villain to the reader without being obvious that it is the villain. But you don't want to end up with a situation, where your readers are confused.

Keeping your friends close but your enemies closer

The old saying "keep your friends close but your enemies closer" may work out really well in a crime novel. Maybe the person is well-known to the protagonist and follows the protagonist along the entire book. As an author, you can describe this person as having good intentions but then reveal secrets along the way that makes this person more and more appealing as the villain. While this is a challenging concept and a difficult thing to do, it will surprise your readers when the person they thought was loyal to the protagonist ends up being the villain. As many would say, best friends know all your secrets and are therefore the most dangerous to fight with. You can definitely use this to your advantage in your novel.

Have you ever tried writing a novel way you use the least likely villain concept? How did it work out for you?