No one wants to read about a cliched villain. Your villain needs to be believable; they must have a three-dimensional character. The villain cannot be bad for the sake of the writer needing a villain; s/he has to be a fully-formed character and needs to have some attractive qualities too so that the reader is enticed and invested in your villain as much as they are in your other characters.
‘The most interesting villains are not completely evil. They have a soft spot for puppies or they write cheesy love poems. Contrary personality traits add depth and realism to all characters.’ Melissa Donovan
With this in mind, I have put together some articles and podcasts to give you some advice on writing those crucial villainous characters.
It is easy to say the villain does evil things because he’s evil but the bad guy (or woman) needs a reason for being the person he’s become. The villain must have believable motivation. This article gives the writer a villain characteristic checklist.
Dan Brown advocates for writing your villain first because it is your villain who will make the hero heroic. He says that the villain must have a strong connection to the hero, a clear morality with a compelling backstory. They must be a worthy opponent. Dan shares 4 tips for writing a good villain.
Ten tips are given here for writing really bad villains including making them well-rounded, building on their emotional logic, and giving them a compelling backstory.
To create a convincing villain, this article suggests that they must have motivations that the reader can understand, and moments of relatability that make the villain vulnerable and tragic. Having a villain who is evil all of the time will fall flat; they have to be rounded characters living out their own lives. It is crucial to create a comprehensive moral code for your villain. It creates a framework for your villain to operate in. The villain has to have a story arc too.
Six tips to create a villain that readers won’t forget are given here including avoiding stereotypical villain dialogues, using vivid description, and showing how your villain wasn’t always the bad guy.
An authentic villain is made with a hint of goodness and a touch of humanity. Having a villain with strengths and weaknesses which are opposite to the hero’s can cause great conflict for plot-driven stories. The villain and the hero sharing the same strengths and weaknesses and mirroring each other can be great for psychological tension. This article gives examples of villains from a variety of different novels.
How can we craft villains that go beyond mere moustache-twirling and maniacal laughter to become truly believable villainous characters? Well-storied discusses where the writer often goes wrong and explains that the key to crafting villains is to remember that every villain is the hero of their own story. Several prompts are given for you to try.
Amie gives the writer four tips to consider when writing evil villains including, making them competent draws the reader into the villain’s orbit, and raises the stakes; making them powerful so that this power can affect the hero’s life.
This podcast focuses on the more relatable villain of small evils which can be the key to connecting the reader to your story.
The Creative Penn podcast discusses why all good stories need a good villain, even romances, and how villains are part of the theme of the novel.
Your villains have to be credible, logical, and believable. You can’t trick your reader with just an evil character. These characters will take time and effort to craft but a fully formed villain can stay with a reader long after the story is finished. I hope this week’s column has been helpful to you. Please get in touch if you have any topic you would like me to cover.
(c) Lucy O’Callaghan