Many authors will tell you that they love their villains - or love creating them. It sounds a bit sinister, but there is a lot of fun to be had making up something that is really nasty. I always tell myself that it's therapeutic, letting out all my inner evil. Some people claim to take out their real life frustrations - with a unpleasant boss or colleague perhaps, by writing them into the story. I don't do that. My villains come straight out of my imagination, which is possibly just a little bit disturbing?
While revising the current WIP and thinking about books to come, I've been pondering the nature of villains. They are not all presented in the same way. In the last book I unexpectedly had two - one evolved during the official editing process. Before that he was a shadowy bit player. Sometimes the identity of the villain is a secret - the essence of the whodunnit, with the final unmasking. In the WIP - The Villa in Portofino - the reader knows from the outset who the villainess is - which gives me the chance to develop her personality, and her motives and also let the reader know in advance what she next has in store for the heroine and hero. That is a variation of the pantomime 'He's behind you.' Possibly it's the easiest format to manage. I don't know how satisfying or not it is for the reader - maybe that's one for a Twitter poll sometime in the future. (Makes a note) You do get the chance to enjoy the villainy up close.
At the moment I am contemplating the shape of the next book - Masquerade on the Riviera - I want to have two villains, one seen and one not. At least that's how it looks at the moment. I'm wrestling with the complexities of keeping the identity of the second player secret, while still showing the reader what they are up to. I will work it out, but at the moment it is taxing the brain. One of my favourite romantic suspense authors, Jayne Ann Krentz is very good at a final twist with a second villain, so I am trying to channel her expertise.
Does a book have to have a villain? For romantic suspense, yes. In other genres there might be an antagonist - a mother in law from hell, a stroppy ex, a business rival. In one of the favourite romantic tropes - enemies to lovers - the hero and heroine do it all themselves - very economical that. It's not for me - I enjoy my villains too much.
Now, about this hidden villain ...