You want to know something weird? I've had this blog for almost two years and I've never written a post about villains. Why? I have absolutely no idea. It is a problem I will fix today.
Villains are more than just obstacles for your hero to overcome. They are characters who deserve just as much attention as the heroes. Why? Because without a villain, your book would have little to no tension. Chances are, your book wouldn't even need a hero. So don't ignore your bad guy. We all know that that ends with you getting cursed with eternal sleep on your birthday. Not fun.
2. Give your villain motivation. Why is your villain doing all of these bad things? Generally speaking, "Because he's evil" isn't a super great answer if you want to create a complex bad guy. Your villain needs a reason. Most kids don't have "Villain" in mind as their answer to "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Think about what made your character fall. Perhaps your villain was a decent person, but was thrust into power and is now too afraid of loosing said power that she's willing to do whatever it takes to keep it. Maybe he's protecting somebody (or somebodies). Or here's a scary idea: Maybe he thinks he's in the right. Oh, here's a good one: Maybe somebody broke her heart and now she's going to spend the rest of her life brewing in hatred. Yeah. That's a great one! Everyone should use it. Clearly, bad breakups make women start murdering people while wearing black leather and low-cut dresses.
3. Give them rules to live by, no matter how small. There's nothing more interesting than a villain with morals, even if those morals are very skewed. President Snow has no problem slaughtering innocents, but he is not wasteful and will not kill without what he sees as a good reason. Loki is willing to lie and cheat and toy with people, but he doesn't want any of his family members to die. Bellatrix Lestrange may be completely insane, but nothing will make her betray her loyalty to You Know Who. While extremely messed up, The Joker does have a very thin set of rules, that being that he believes everyone to be crazy deep down and thus will not bow to worthless societal rules.
4. Connect your villain to your hero. "No, I am your father!" This is the epitome of villain creation: Make your villain similar to your hero. Give them a similar background, a similar personal struggle, or even a similar goal. This can raise the tension in the story quickly while also making your readers sympathize with both the hero and villain. It can also lead to a lot of interesting questions. Harry and Tom Riddle have similar backgrounds: Raised in loveless homes, both powerful wizards, both students of Hogwarts. The difference? Harry's mom loved him and Tom's mother abandoned him. How much of that contributed to the different paths they chose later in life? In The Patriot, both the villain and the hero fight their wars in similar ways: with cruel efficiency and a certain lack of morals, the difference being that the hero realizes the error of his ways while the villain takes pride in it. Batman often sees himself reflected in the villains he fights: In one comic he tries to save Two-Face because he sees that he could have been pushed over the edge just like Harvey was. Similarities between villain and hero can be heart wrenching and add insane depth to a story.
5. Do your research. If you are choosing to go with a psychotic villain, read up on psychosis and personality disorders. If you want to write about a villain who is using religion as their reason for doing evil, then make sure you understand that religion. Watch movies with great villains, study the villains in books, and don't
forget to look up the different kinds of villains out there:
villains, extremist villains, religious villains, remorseful villains,
vengeful villains, psychotic villains, pawn villains. There are many
kinds out there, so take some time to sit down and figure out which one
will flow the best with your chosen storyline and hero.
6. Go for the grey zone. Some of the best villains are the ones that have a bit of good in them. They are bad guys, yes, but they have a human side. Their reasons for doing what they do are understandable. Not only is this a more realistic take on life, but it will also increase your reader's interest in the story. Will the villain die? Be redeemed? The villain has a point, so what happens when the hero wins? However, be careful: you can create understanding for a villain, but don't justify or glamorize their bad deeds. For example, Magneto is killing tons of people to protect mutants. Do I understand and sympathize with this goal? Yes. Does that make his actions okay? No. Enter the grey zone, but make sure you don't accidentally wind up promoting the black.
In a way, writing a villain is almost identical to writing any other character: give the character a personality, a back story, and a motivation. That's it. You just have to be willing to go deep, think hard, and write thoughtfully.
What are some of your favorite complex villains? How do you like to approach writing your bad guys? Did I miss any tips? Please let me know! I am planning a post on different antagonist archetypes, so stay tuned and feel free to let me know some of your favorites.
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