How evil is your villain’s smile?

An evil smile from Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars.
An evil smile from Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars.

An evil villain’s smile can send chills sliding down the reader’s spine. Make the most of it. Don’t just write “he smiled” or “he smiled slowly/knowingly/cruelly.”

Instead, devote a full sentence to describing this smile. Here are some ideas to get you started. If you want to use them, I recommend you rewrite them in your own words so they suit your story, your villain, and your personal writing style.

Her eyes lit, and her lips curved in malicious pleasure.

The corners of her mouth turned up.

His smile bared large, glistening teeth.

His upper lip curled with mirth.

Her face slid into an insincere smile.

His mouth curved like a scimitar.

Although her mouth curved, the smile did not reach her eyes.

The Devil Eats Here- fantasy stories - Rayne Hall - cover  August 2012Here are examples of how I’ve used smiles for unpleasant and dangerous people in my own fiction. Please don’t copy these, but view them as inspiration to create something that’s unique to your story:

Lord Govan put on his official smile to receive the leather-wrapped parcel. (Storm Dancer)

The Consort’s smile spread the ends of his moustache. (Storm Dancer)

His mouth spread into a smile so wide that the moustache quivered. (Storm Dancer)

Her smile was soft, her gaze hard. (Storm Dancer)

Kirral’s smile was knife-edge thin. (Storm Dancer)

Baryush’s smile bared large teeth. (Storm Dancer)

There was a contorted smile on her face, as if she wanted to reassure me that she still loved me. (Never Leave Me)

The guide inclined her head, granting the child what was almost a smile. (The Painted Staircase)

The pinched face softened at last, and her mouth curved into a smile. (The Painted Staircase)

Use this technique sparingly. Novice writers tend to overuse smiles; their heroes, heroines, villains and supporting cast smile all the time, and this soon becomes tedious.

The fewer smiles you use, the better, especially for the dangerous characters.

The villain’s smile has the greatest impact if he smiles only this once. In a long novel, he may smile several times… but not on every page. If he smiles all the time, the effect wears off. The rarer the smile, the greater the chill effect.


Have you read any good descriptions of villain’s smiles recently? Share them in the comments section. If you’re a writer and want to discuss this technique, please leave a comment. I’ll be around for a week and will reply. I enjoy answering questions.

Please click the book cover image to read more about author/editor Rayne Hall and her books.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    Your tips are priceless, Rayne. The little things are what make a difference in the telling of a story. They impact a reader, and a reader never realizes why.

  • Huh – hadn’t thought of that one. I will have to find a place for that single villain’s smile – maybe when she gets what she wants, and before she loses it?

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