In this post from Writers Write, your one-stop writing resource, we write about the seven rules for creating villains for your stories.
Every Story Has A Villain
There wouldn’t be much conflict for your protagonist to overcome if there was no antagonist to stir the pot.
Yours might be the evil villain who opposes everything your hero does. They might be the treacherous double-agent from the past, or the psychotic evil scientist, or maybe just the other woman or other man fighting for your hero’s attention.
Whoever your villain is, making sure they are believable is far more difficult than simply creating a character who does bad things to hold up your protagonist‘s progress.
Your job here is to make your villains credible, logical, and believable, but not necessarily likeable. You want the reader to understand that what they’re doing is a negative thing for your hero.
But it’s more involved than just explaining their adverse actions. Your readers need to understand why the antagonist is doing what he or she does, and why they believes their actions are justified and rational.
To make your villains real, three-dimensional people, follow these seven (rather deadly, but always effective) rules!
7 Deadly Rules For Creating A Villain
1. Find A (Damn Good) Reason To Be Bad
Villains or antagonists view themselves as victims. They have a reason for their bad behaviour.
Bad characters–trapped in the cellar of a dark impulse–don’t know they’re bad. They believe they are the good guys in a world that can’t understand them.
The world is represented by one other character – usually the protagonist – who must be punished for that mistake.
2. Find The Good In The Bad
Remember no one is 100% bad. Try to find the good in the bad. Dig a bit deeper. You will find there’s a scrap of humanity inside the hideousness.
Think of alter egos – e.g., Mr Brooks, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In real life, when we see someone trying to beat something, we feel sympathy. For example, they may suffer from an addiction.
Give them one characteristic that contrasts their behaviour.
3. Write Against A Stereotype
Write your villain like a priest – and your priest like a villain.
In order to be considered a worthy opponent, you must portray your antagonist honestly. One way to do this is to balance their inner darkness with their outer demeanour and behaviour.
Think of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. She wears pink cardigans and collects plates with kittens on them. This is a gentle, pleasing image. Her words seem reasonable and polite, but there is real threat in them. If she came across as a witch physically, there would be no surprises. J.K. Rowling would’ve created a caricature.
4. Nurse That Grudge!
The best villains in fiction have been short-changed. They’ve been cheated out of something by the hero.
They’ll do anything to get what they want because they’ve been overlooked in the past. They’ll crush anyone in their path.
Feed that obsession. Make it real. At the same time, try to make it understandable. When you can also show your villain’s complex, devious, misguided nature from your hero’s viewpoint, you know you’ve created a truly memorable bad guy, and you will have strengthened your protagonist’s character and your plotline at the same time.
5. Imagine You’re The Hero’s Evil Twin
Imagine your villain as a shadow of the hero, a doppelganger.
Think about when you created your protagonist. Most likely you created someone you admired, a character with strength and integrity. I’m guessing you took the time to get right inside your hero’s head and understand what made him tick.
Your villain is no different.
Why not give him opposite traits to your main character? This will give you marked contrasts and opportunity for conflict. And just as with real life twins, give him similar characteristics to create a bond between the two.
When you’re writing a hero, a bell goes off every time he does something outside the range of normal behaviour. With a baddie, you can push the boundaries. The same rules don’t apply. There’s something liberating in writing baddies.
With great power, comes great fun for a writer.
6. Show Your Villain Up
In a novel, the villain often needs to look different. It can be a physical deformity that has impacted on their psychology. (For example, they may have a club foot.)
The trick is to be subtle. Think of Hannibal Lecter, a famous villain. He is quite ordinary looking – except for those maroon eyes and metallic voice. Those touches are enough to make him spine –chilling when combined with his behaviour.
7. Relish The Fantasy
The only chance you get to be bad is by writing books. You can be a villain for 360 pages. You can’t walk down the street and be a villain. But on paper you can get away with it.
Just let it flow. Have fun with it.
Look At Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Below:
Is there one thing you couldn’t live without?
Take away one stratum – maybe your one important need. Your baddie has been deprived of this, probably in childhood. Pretend you’re a psychologist. Write a report describing how this deprivation has changed the patient’s life.
Now, write it as a scene for a book – preferably in your favourite genre.
- List 10 things that you like about yourself.
- List five qualities of someone you like a lot or admire or look up to.
- If you could be invisible for a day, write down three things you would do if you knew you could get away with it.
- Write down the one thing you couldn’t live without.
- Write down the name of the person who has hurt you the most.
- Write down your favourite genre – one you like to read or hope to write.
Keep this list at hand.
Look back at your lists.
- Choose a name for your baddie. If you like, give them the name of the person who hurt you the most.
- Give them one or two qualities of the person you admire or look up to.
- Give them a physical description.
- Think of the one thing you’d do if you could get away with it. Make that their scene goal, if possible, or something similar.
- The protagonist or good guy – give them a name too – will try to stop him from achieving this.
- Write the scene from the baddie’s viewpoint. Write it in first person.
- Now, write a scene in third person from hero’s point of view. The baddie has one of more of the characteristics you, as the author, like about yourself.
- Write a sequel (emotion, quandary, decision, action). The hero must admire this quality, even if it’s in conflict with their own goal – to stop baddie. Can they use this characteristic to thwart or trick the villain? How will they go about it?
- Make a list of different options as they puts their plans into action.
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