This is a fascinating question, and in answering it you will discover a great deal about your villain or obstacle that would be nearly impossible any other way.
Think of the scene in Seven where we first meet Somerset, who is technically not the villain but does have an ambivalent role in the story. Our very first view of him is from the back as he is getting dressed. We don’t see his face, but we do see his jacket on the bed, and we watch as he picks an imaginary piece of lint from it, letting us know right away that he is fastidious. Next, he arms himself, with handcuffs, his gun, and we learn that he’s a detective. But then, in a surprise, he grabs a switchblade off the dresser, briefly flicking it open and then closing it—and that’s how we know we are into a really interesting story.
To start the exercise, as always, find a comfortable, quiet place, take a deep breath, imagine yourself in a beautiful locale, and then open your eyes. Now set a timer for five minutes and write down, as if you were the villain or obstacle of your story, how you get dressed. Do you put on your underwear first or your socks? Be specific. You’ll start to see what kind of significance your character places on various aspects of his or her life.
For example, I recently worked with someone who told me he put on his lower garments first and then applied deodorant. Now, I had never thought of deodorant as an article of clothing, but when I realized that this person was a newscaster and was in a very public position, it started to make sense that he would regard this as an essential part of his outfit.
I always do this exercise when I am developing new characters. And in a curious way, it will also help you hear your villain’s voice, letting you know who he or she is deep inside. Further, a symbolic object, like a switchblade or a can of deodorant, can provide a path to understanding your villain’s or obstacle’s most private, secret concerns.
Here’s to Your Successful Writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz