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An important aspect of my story is the dread of my villain. He is slowly built up throughout the story, with a bunch of characters here and there talking of the terror he inflicts upon the world. People call the MC crazy for going after him. The villain is described with fearsome characteristics, and they're compared to secondary villains that are themselves pretty scary. However, these comparisons paint these secondary villains as barely anything in comparison to the big baddie.

However, accompanying all this reputation build-up, is also a narrative that takes a long time to get to the villain. Now, most of the time, the goal of taking down this villain is in the forefront of the narrative. The MC is doing these different kinds of missions that are all advancing him towards the ultimate goal, and sometimes he fails and has to get out of a tricky situation. I think that the narrative taking its time with all of this is okay, because it is all essential for the MC's arc and development, as well as side character's developments.

However, I'm a bit unsure when the second act begins (at least, I think of it as the second act). Here, the story's pace drops dramatically, and the narrative, as well as the MC, meanders a bit. They get lost, completely lost. And then they find themselves again. Heck, they even beat a few secondary villains that string them along a path that eventually leads them back on the hunt for the main villain.

Now, I'm back on this track towards the villain, and I've had a few chapter's just devoted to the long and arduous haul towards the villain. I'm nearly 70K words in however, and I've got lots to go. This is a pretty long novel, and there will be a lot of the book that contains the villain. As in, it's not like this book will be 100K and then the villain is only present in the last 1k of the book. No, the villain will be present in a lot of chapters, and so I don't think the villain's presence in the story will be bad proportionally, however, I'm just wondering if the story is taking too long to get to the villain.

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    Can you be a little more clear about how your big villain is exposed? Is the problem that Big Bad never crosses paths with the Hero until the finale? Also keep in mind that there are many ways to keep the villain hidden while keeping the plot on fire. For example, in "The Lord of the Rings", Sauron never makes a direct appearance (at least in the book), and yet it doesn't feel like a problem. – Alexander Nov 23 '20 at 18:51
  • I've seen plenty of stories where until the last couple chapters of the 3rd-5th book, you weren't even sure WHO the villain was. So no. It's never too late. – DWKraus Dec 3 '20 at 1:45
  • There are times in great storytelling where the hero and the villain do not meet until the end. Mystery genre sort of depends on this (or at least, hiding the villain from the reader) while some well known films out of that genre do this as well. Consider "Die Hard" in which Hans Gruber meets Bruce Willis late into the film (one scene was added to bring it out earlier). In a laugh at this, in "Fifth Element" the hero (also Bruce Willis) never meets the villain, with the closest they come is missing an encounter by mere seconds. – hszmv Dec 11 '20 at 14:59
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A villain doesn't have to be physically present to be "present" in the story. From the sound of it you introduce the villain pretty early on by reputation, and spend most of the story working up to actually meeting/confronting them. There's nothing wrong with that. This happens in a lot of stories. If your story has pacing issues, then it could drag on like you are hoping to avoid, but that's a separate issue not necessarily tied to when you actually meet the villain face-to-face. As long as the villain's precense is "felt" in the story (the consequences of their villainy are shown throughout: Burned villages, murdered families, a planet being drained of magic and crumbling from the inside, sabotage of diplomatic correspondence that leads to war, the threat of death for a boy's beloved doggie... whatever it may be that makes up the threat and existing problems posed by your main baddie!) then your protagonist (and your readers) know what the main goal is they are working towards, what evil they are trying to defeat (even if only by consequences/reputation, rather than by name), and that should be enough.

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  • Indeed, one of the biggest problems with off-stage villains is that they are much more impressive as a suggestion than when they are actually brought out on stage. – Mary Nov 22 '20 at 20:55
  • Thank you very much for this insight. I see that this is perhaps lacking from my story. The only interaction the villain ever has with the MC before they physically meet, is sending back his spy as dismembered body parts inside a chest. This happens relatively early in the story, but is THE only interaction they have. However, applying what you said about looking at the villain as a "bad force" in the story: The MC is plagued by the villain. They de-prioritize good things, abandoning their wife and their child, and their best-friend, etc. The MC negatively develops because of their mission to- – A. Kvåle Nov 25 '20 at 17:24
  • (Continuation of above comment): ...to take down the villain. A such, the villain's destructive effect on the world isn't very present in the story in the physical sense. There are no burned down villages and all that, only a single episode where the villain simply responds to the MC's efforts. However, the villain's destructiveness can be seen in the MC. Here's the thing about that though; it is the MC's fault, ultimately. It is their ego and depravity that allows their fixation on the villain to ruin so much for them. So, I'm not really sure if my villain is present enough in that sense? – A. Kvåle Nov 25 '20 at 17:27
  • @A.Kvåle um...mailing someone a dead body chopped into little pieces is a pretty good way to establish someone's villainous nature. It isn't just telling the reader, "Oh, have you heard of Mr. Badguy? He's so horrible! Really, he's the worst, we swear!" It's SHOWING this. Proving it. There are plenty of stories where most people (in-universe) think the bad guy is some kind of great guy, because this is how he normally projects himself. But the protagonist somehow discovers he isn't (secret lab full of experimented on children, anyone?) and has to prove it/stop them... – MarielS Nov 26 '20 at 0:26
  • ....If the sole evil action you see from a villain is mailing someone a chopped up body, the reader is already convinced of their badness. Nice people don't mail bodyparts. The protagonist then going off the rails to stop them, ruining their own life yet seeming to get nowhere while the bad guy continues on smugly living their normal evil life mostly uneffected by the protag's initial efforts is an interesting set up that increases the stakes (and the vibe of being untouchable that many good villains have before you finally figure out how to beat them). – MarielS Nov 26 '20 at 0:27
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It’s hilarious because I’m not even kidding right now: my series is the exact. Same. Way. Like, exact exact. My antagonist, The Huntress, is an immortal psycho who murdered the queen of a magical planet called Epslan, took the throne, massacred half the planet, controlled and tortured all the rest, and melted into the shadows so she was controlling everything without anyone knowing to stop a prophecy about her death from coming true. Anyway, I kind of feel obligated to answer your question.

Yes, a villain can be introduced too late, but I’m pretty sure that’s only if you’re writing a series. If you are, I think the best time to introduce a series bad guy is at the end of the first book. Any later... no. Just no.

It’s especially fun if you have your protagonist(s) think they won, and NOPE! sorry! The real bad guy is _________ HAHAHAHA! Suckers!

That’s just my opinion though. If you’re writing a single, stand alone novel, then it’s best to introduce, or at least talk about, the antagonist as soon as possible. It sounds to me like you’ve talked about him, and that’s all you really need.

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No. Your story is not taking too long to get to the villain.

I think that having your antagonist physically show up later is fine. This is making me think of Voldemort, the main antagonist in the Harry Potter series. Voldemort doesn't physically appear until it reaches near the end. And then the chapters before that introduce the problem, and occasionally talk about Voldemort doing all sorts of evil things, like murder, torture, that sort of stuff.

Having your book a 100k word length, while your antagonist only appears in 1k words...it might make your readers feel a bit cheated. I would suggest that your antagonist physically appears somewhere like 1/4 of the story. It makes the readers feel a bit more satisfied. Because 1k is particularly short...but I think that building up the reputation of the villain might fill that in a bit.

Your novel actually sounds interesting, other than that. A little suggestion for you is to make the secondary villains difficult to fight. Maybe just moderately difficult. The main antagonist probably should be more frightening than them all, so making the secondary characters look intimidating, and also coming across the fact that the main villain is probably more scarier...it builds a lot of tension and mystery.

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