One of my favorite parts of writing is making an awesome villain character. They are, in fact, the whole reason why your story exists, so they better be good. Without a proper villain, your story can fall flat, and no one likes flat stories. You may be thinking to yourself, “But the main protagonist needs to be the highlight of the story!” While you are correct, every story needs to have contrast, and the more opposite, or contrasted MC and Villain, the more interesting the story is. Here’s some ‘Do’s and Don’t’s when planning out your villains.
- Give them aspirations. As with writing any other character in your story, they should all have something worth fighting for, so to speak. They strive for something they want or need. Revenge, wealth, popularity, whatever it may be. If all your villain does is kill people for no good reason, they aren’t developed well enough. Granted, they could just be crazy, but even crazy people are going to be after something. Your readers are going to need to know what that is, otherwise, it feels like they were just put in as an after thought to scare your MC. This tactic will only come back to bite you in the hiney.
- Validation. You may think it’s silly that this is on here, but trust me, it needs to be said. If you constantly say in your book how much the bad guy sucks and has done all these horrible things, but we never see it… the claims are jack shit. This is an extended version of “telling and not showing.” The real meaning of this is different, but I think this is the more literal definition. If you keep telling us all the crap the bully does in school but we’re never shown any of it, the bully could just be a normal person that people like to spread rumors about. Until we see them punching the crap out of someone or stealing lunch money, he’s just a figment of our imagination.
- Relatable. Everyone is supposed to hate the bad guy, right? Well, yes. But if we feel like we have absolutely no connection with them, we will not hate them, but just not care. And not caring about a character is even worse. Simply giving them goals as I mentioned earlier will help you to relate or understand where our villain is coming from. But other ways is to make them somewhat normal, to a point where we can say, “She’s like that bitch I know from class. I heard she has serious family issues, so it’s hard to blame her.” Give your villains some background at least. They may not be normal now, but if we or the MC knows something about where they came from and why they are messed up, we will end up caring about them. Just a little. Don’t over do it though.
- Dr. Horrible. You may have recognized the guy in the picture at the start of this (Neil Patrick Harris) or the character he plays, Dr. Horrible. It’s short little film directed by Joss Whedon, you know, the guy who directed the Avengers movies. If you haven’t seen “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” I highly recommend it. Basically, it’s about a villain, or a normal guy trying to become a villain. Not many stories revolve around the villain which is why this film is brilliant. I mention it because it’s an excellent example of what villains should be. All the things I said above, goals, validation and he’s very relatable (believe it or not) are in this film. Plus, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion are also in it. 🙂
- Predicable. This can be touching on two different things. You don’t want to have a bad guy presented at the very beginning as “the bad guy.” If he is super obvious that he will be the main villain, it’s a little blah. However, if you do end up making him obvious for the sake of the story, don”t have all of his actions predicable. Have them do things that aren’t as bad, or lead us up to the point where you think they are going to do something bad, but then they don’t. Keep us on our toes. Make us question their intentions.
- Too evil. Does your villain keep doing bad things or being an asshole all the time?
Like, All. The. Time? Stop it. Don’t do this. No one likes reading about characters like this, even if they are villains.
- Cliches. Bad guys are the easiest to cliche (and I thank Disney for that). Evil step-sisters/step-mothers, the emperor, the jealous brother, ect. This ties in a bit with predictable, like if you have a romance story, the common cliches are robbers, rapists, the asshole boss. Try to mix it up a bit and have someone else that the reader would never guess who it is. They will thank you for it.
- Better than the rest of your characters. As I said, writing villains is my favorite part, and sometimes wanting to write a really good bad guy can take over the rest of the story. If your villain is more interesting than anyone else in your book, or even the MC, you may want to dial it back a bit. Or make your MC even better. The main character is the main character for a reason. You’ve already proven that you can make a great character when you planned out the villain; do the same with everyone else.
- Horrible reasons. The worst thing you can do is build up your villain really well, and then find out the reasons behind their evilness and it’s the dumbest shit you’ve ever heard. They want to take over the world because they are a spoiled brat with parents who gave them everything, so now they want the world! Muahaha! …What? Seriously? *slams book shut* The reason needs to reflect what’s going on the rest of the story, otherwise it will come completely out of left field, leaving your reader confused or laughing. Your villain shouldn’t make you laugh; not in this way, at least.
Who are some of your favorite villains in shows/movies/books? Think of how they are and developed and use it to your advantage. Ask yourself why you liked them so much. Sometimes villains are the person you least suspect (Walter White in Breaking Bad).
Side Note: When writing this, I tried looking online for examples of “Bad Villains.” I found pretty much nothing. I made me wonder why, and then I thought, it’s because villains who are badly written are not remembered. No one gives a shit about them. Something to think about. ##