Writing Amazing Villains

Without antagonists, there would be no story. The hero would not face the conflict that propels them through the book, and equally, the readers would have no one for whom to cheer. This is why creating a strong antagonist is so important.

Vocab tidbit: an antagonist is the force of conflict to the protagonist, the hero of the story. Antagonists can take a variety of forms: a dystopian government, the inner demons of the hero, or an organization. When an individual is the antagonist, that person is called the villain.

What villains shouldn't be

Think of some of the classic villains that you know. The Wicked Witch of the West in THE WIZARD OF OZ. The evil stepmothers and queens in Disney princess movies. As characters, they're boring. They have a single dimension: evil. Which is why it is fascinating to explore "their sides" of the story in books/movies like WICKED and MALIFICENT. 

This does not mean that villains should not be evil. Good versus evil is one of the most common themes in literature. What it does mean, however, is that your villain needs to have a story. Why are they evil? What are the motivations behind their actions? How can you show these details to your reader?

Your checklist for an amazing villain

1. Do they see themselves as evil?

Though you may automatically think, since we are in this process of creating developed villains, that the answer is no, that's not the case. You have the options of both yes and no. Here is some exploration into both:

If your answer is no...

What are they trying to accomplish? Just like your protagonist, your villain needs a goal. Even if the goal is something as simple as world domination, they need a reasoning behind it. What is their deeper "good" motivation?

If your answer is yes...

So your villain is evil and knows it. You still need to ask yourself what your villain is trying to accomplish. And even if, like the Joker, that answer is chaos, you need to ask yourself why. Why does the villain want this? What made the villain reject the path of goodness?

From Darcy Pattinson

2. Backstory

Backstory is incredibly important for all of your major characters, particularly for villains. Think of the amount of backstory you know about Voldemort and how his past led him to that Halloween night when he killed Harry's parents. Think of WICKED, which is the entire backstory of the Wicked Witch of the West. Knowing your villain's backstory will help explain those "why" questions I mentioned earlier. 

3. A Fear and a Strength

These are where your protagonist comes into play. The villain needs to be stronger than them, otherwise, it wouldn't be much fun to root for the guy with the upper hand. With this in mind, how is your villain stronger than your protagonist? Is he, like Voldemort, incredibly powerful with a massive amount of supporters? What obstacles will the protagonist need to overcome in order to level out this playing field? Think of Harry and his crew destroying one Horcrux after another and how daunting of a task that was. 

Now for the fear. This should be tied into the desire or the past of your villain. A truly amazing resource for developing characters, particularly in the realm of desires/fears, is this website.  Technically, it's a spiritual resource, but by Asgard is it good for characters. You can choose a "chief feature/flaw" for your character, then it will provide insight into their past, their desires, and their fears. 

Because Voldemort is becoming an excellent example, think of his greatest fear: death. This fear explains why he created the Horcruxes--one of his strengths. And J.K. Rowling beautifully tied these into his past when he used his muggle family to create these Horcruxes and sealed them into objects that defined Hogwarts, the only place he felt at home. 

Lastly, this fear needs to lead to the villain's downfall. Unlike the protagonist, who faces and overcomes their fear, the villain needs to be so blinded by his fear that he exposes himself, and then the underdog protagonist can seize the opportunity and defeat him.

4. Appearances

Your reader needs to know your villain early into the story, otherwise he's not particularly scary when the protagonist finally encounters him. There is a quote (if anyone knows you said it, please post it in the comments so I can cite it. I couldn't find the writer on Google), that goes something like this: "The villain needs to appear in the beginning so we can know him, the middle so we can fear him, and the end so we can defeat him." 

Tip: If your villain is the driving force of the catalyst that propels the hero into the story, that's an easy way to introduce them in the beginning.

Giving your reader all these juicy details

Now that you have some amazing ideas on developing your villain, your next question must be "How will I give the reader all of this information without a cliché villain monologue near the end?" You have a variety of options to choose from, depending on your story. I'll list as many as I can think of here.

1. Your hero already knows your villain à la evil stepmother.

2. Your villain is common knowledge to everyone or at least the hero's allies (Voldemort, Sauron)

3. Your villain is the face of a larger group/organization (The Hun from Mulan, Janine from Divergent)

4. Your villain is allies with the hero then betrays them (I'd list examples but don't want to give away spoilers)

5. Your villain gets a POV (The Raven Boys)

6. You reveal information about the villain before revealing the villain's identity (murder mysteries, BBC Sherlock)

Other fun ideas to play with

Here are some additional tidbits on villains that I'd thought I'd ramble about:

1. Villains that mirror the hero in some way (Harry and Voldemort)
2. Enough POVs that characters easily play both villains and heroes (Game of Thrones)
3. Villains that don't start out as villains in the beginning of the story (The Amazing Spiderman I and II)
4. Villains that team up with the hero... at least for the time being

In conclusion...

Your villain needs a lot of why's. Your villain needs a strength that outweighs the hero and a fear/vulnerability for the hero to seize. And most important of all, your villain needs some spotlight so the reader learns to fear and understand him. 

Any other ideas to add to any of these sections? Post in the comments. Also, I'd love to hear a bit about your villains and why they are so awesome.

1 comment:

  1. Interestingly enough, I often see more of myself in my villains than in my heroes.