Introducing the Villan Late
by A Jehrum Aranda
Question: A large part of the plot of my novel involves the main character trying to find out who the villain of the story is. Although the villain is introduced early in the story, the reader won't find out his roll until the end of the book along with the MC. This has led to the unfortunate consequence of the villain having almost no character arc of his own. While his machinations have pursued the MC throughout the entire story, I am worried his lack of a noticeable character arc might be a problem. Are there any good examples of mystery or political drama stories out there who handled this approach well?Answer:
Actually, it is a staple of the Suspense genre to have the villains's identity be a mystery for much of the story.
Suspense stories are all about characters who are walking into traps, which they escape at the last second. The reader sees the trap before the character does, which creates the suspense.
Very often, the villain is introduced early on, but his/her identity is concealed. This lets the reader know that a trap is being laid so they can enjoy the experience of wondering when the trap will spring, who the villain is, and how the protagonist will escape.
Nora Roberts has written a number of soft suspense novels like this (e.g. River's End
A somewhat darker example is I See You
by Clare Mackintosh.
It is still possible to give the villain an arc in this type of story. Sometimes the villain is a POV character whose identity is hidden (hard to do). Sometimes the clues as to what is going on for the villain are present throughout but seem so innocuous that the reader doesn't put the pieces together until the climax, when the villain's identity is revealed (also tricky to do). In other words, the significance of the events in the villain's arc is concealed until the end.