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When is it to introduce the Big Bad?

So in my current work, there are a lot of different things going on. It's definitely going to span across multiple books (at least three from what I can tell). There are a lot of bad things happening that don't seem connected at first, but as the story progresses, it becomes clear that the Big Bad is pulling the strings behind all of these different events. The problem is that I don't want to make the Big Bad the main focus of the first book because I want the focus to be on what's going on. Should I just tease him in the book at certain points? I want his presence to be more prominent as the story progresses, but like I said, this is definitely gonna be more than one book.

EDIT: Oops, meant to say "too late to" in the title. I really should get some sleep haha.
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I think that if sub-Bads are used in the first book, and they are interesting, there's no great need to introduce the Big Bad. Readers aren't going to know about the Big Bad, will think those other antagonists are the primary villains, and can enjoy the book on that basis. Even if it's just one sub-Bad–a red herring–this can keep it interesting enough.

I think it's a good idea to utilize some primary antagonist in the first book, even if he's a red herring, because miscellaneous bad things happening without any sort of focus can be quite irritating for a reader. You also run the risk of having your protagonist or MCs seem stupid, merely reactive, if "OMG WHAT'S HAPPENING!" is all they can muster as a mental reaction. If you focus their attention on potential culprits, they'll be more interesting.

You could foreshadow a mysterious Big Bad in the first book, even while using other targets, if you want, although I don't think that would be absolutely necessary.


If they're the puppetmaster type, a solid option is to introduce them early, without revealing them as the/an antagonist. Just another character, not even that intriguing of one. That way the reveal of his antagonistry (shaddup, it's a word NOW) will have the element of "It was YOU?!" that is so satisfying.
I introduced my big bad chapter II in my 2d book. In my 3d book I introduced him early but he's not a super huge threat...yet. It all depends on story.


I'd say the only point it really becomes "too late" to introduce the Big Bad would be the point where he moves to the front of the queue as the main antagonist. At that point, he comes off as less "the one pulling all the strings" and more just "the latest replacement for the villains already deposed."

Different form of media, but I'd say the worst example of introducing the main villain too late in the story would be Far Cry 3. You spend the first 2/3rds of the game handling a personal vendetta with the personable, dangerous, and outright crazy Vaas, and then suddenly he's replaced with his superior, some bland psychopath you've seen maybe twice beforehand. The game just becomes a slog after that because the main character has lost most of his personal stake in the conflict, and he's essentially just tying up loose ends. Which is arguably the point of the story - that vengeance is ultimately unsatisfying - but that doesn't make it any less uninteresting.

You need to be given time to care that the Big Bad exists, otherwise he's just the latest jerk in a chain of jerks.


I think it's a good idea to at least make the reader aware of the big bad's existence in some form or another - you can have him be a shadowy figure, stroking a cat, and holding a meeting with a little bad leaving an air of mystery in his wake, or he can be introduced as a seemingly non-essential character.

I've read a few books (titles do not spring to mind in my benedryl induced haze) where 2/3 into the book a big bad is introduced all "MUHAHA I'VE BEEN THE FORCE BEHIND ALL THE BAD STUFF MASTER PLAN TENTED FINGERS MUHAHAHHA!" and it wasn't shocking, or intriguing, it was more like "who the heck is this guy?"

The best my brain can come up with right now is how in James Bond there were always little-bad Spectre guys he fought, but behind them was the cat-stroking Blofeld, pulling strings and being petty.


Article Team
There are a lot of different ways you can do this, but IMHO, do not save it to the last second. You can introduce them as a character or hint at them before the 100% reveal as mentioned.

In the first GOT book, the white walkers are introduced in the prologue and mentioned as myth until they make their appearance in later volumes. The Emperor in the original Star Wars is mentioned in the first movie, is seen as a hologram in the second, and makes his physical appearance at the beginning of the third.

In the movie Lost Boys, the big bad was hidden in plain sight as a character that was just around until his true nature is revealed towards the end.

Notice a commonality between the three? When the big bad is finally seen, the question "Who the heck is that?" doesn't pop up.

I think you should at least mention the big bad as soon as possible. If done right, it will put a question into the reader's head that they'll want answered, and the only way to get that answer is to read on.
I don't know if you even need a traditional Big Bad. You could have antagonists in conflict with each other that are providing different paths for the Hero to choose from. Both may have their own positives and negatives. The storytelling is more realistic if the choices the Hero makes don't end with the "Happily ever after, everything is OK now" end result.

I have a god and a prophet that began as a human and ascended to a type of godhood, because a certain portion of mankind wanted someone that could provide the answers to the questions they have had since the beginning, that are vying for control and both have their own reason why they are in the right. The hero could support one or the other or defy them both.
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First of all, thank you to everyone for the advice! A few more details about the story so that you have a better idea of the scenario. The Big Bad is a puppet master style villain, although he is believed to be dead. The events and conflicts that the heroes face are caused by the Big Bad. I drop hints at the Big Bad's existence throughout the story, and as the story progresses, his presence will become more and more known. In the later part of the story (which will probably be a couple of books down the road) we will see the Big Bad in more direct control of events, because his power and influence will have grown to a point where he does not have to be in the shadows as much. In Penpilot's post, I think that the best comparison would be to the Emperor in Star Wars. So I suppose the question now is, is it too late to physically show the Big Bad in say... the third book?

A. E. Lowan

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In Penpilot's post, I think that the best comparison would be to the Emperor in Star Wars. So I suppose the question now is, is it too late to physically show the Big Bad in say... the third book?

Not as long as you've signposted his existence in the previous two books, so you have that "He's ALIVE???" reaction. It's all a matter of careful foreshadowing.


In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron is never a active character. He works only behind the scenes. One does not need to introduce the Big Bad at all. In fact, he is scarier if he never makes an appearance.
So I suppose the question now is, is it too late to physically show the Big Bad in say... the third book?

Given the scenario you describe, I don't think that's too late. So much depends on execution.

There's a little confusion over the idea of "introduce." Sauron may not have been introduced physically (beyond mention of the glowing eye) but was nonetheless introduced as a real being early enough. In fact, your description of your Big Bad seems similar to Sauron and even Voldemort, both of whom were presumed dead until they weren't.

I suspect that very careful management of that question of his death—the foreshadowing of his reappearance—might be important to your story. Too much suggestion that he's not really dead would simultaneously weaken the shock of his eventual reappearance and weaken the force of the conflicts before his appearance, since readers would be put in a quite different position than the main characters and might be left thinking the earlier struggles of the MCs are no big deal (knowing, unlike the MCs, the Big Picture.) Too little foreshadowing could mean a slap in the face to readers when he does reappear, or else that feeling that Drakevarg mentioned: "he comes off as less 'the one pulling all the strings' and more just 'the latest replacement for the villains already deposed.' "

Perhaps you could work it so that one POV character, maybe even a side character, grows progressively closer to the truth even while the MCs operate in ignorance. (JK Rowling pulled the opposite: the MCs are the ones who understand Voldemort's reappearance even while the rest of the wizarding world remain largely ignorant.)
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