How to create villains that make your story memorable.
(Revised) Original article posted February 2020
If you want to give your readers a story they can really sink their teeth into, you are going to need a badass. No, not a badass hero – a badass villain.
Think about some of the books you’ve read in the past that enthralled you. The pulse pounding, blood boiling stories you could not put down. Chances are, the reason the books were so good, so intense, is because of a villain who excelled at being deliciously evil.
Yes, I know, hero’s are amazing. They are the survivors, fighters, and good people whom we live through and root for throughout the story. They bring us the happy ending with their beautiful hair waving in the wind and even muster a brilliant smile despite their exhaustion and near death experiences. But the hero is just about useless without a worthy opponent. The villain.
“So you think your a hero, huh? Prove it!” The villain said.
A villain breathes life into a story and is even more important than the hero in driving the plot forward. The villain is like a running back on an opposing football team, carrying that story all the way to the endzone! The hero’s goal is trying to take him or her down before they score a touchdown.
In other words, without your villain you don’t have much of a story or hero, for that matter.
So just make an evil doer and plug them in, right? Wrong.
The creation of a villain deserves as much attention, time and effort as you spend developing a hero. They should not be an afterthought. You want to create a villain who is realistic, a baddy who seems they could jump off the page and exist in real life. Three-dimensional. Evil in 3-D!
Your readers will love you and your story all the more for it. Why? Story is nothing without conflict. Conflict drives the story. The villain is the conflict driving your hero to action.
But how does a mild mannered, non-evil writer bring a realistic villain to life?
Follow five basic tips.
1) Create a Human – First and foremost, think of your villain as a real person. No one is born evil. Most villains are made via bad experiences and circumstances. They were once regular people who suffered something terrible. They were hurt, betrayed, brutalized, abandoned, etc.
Whatever happened to them, it changed them dramatically. It made them snap. Perhaps, it was instantaneous or maybe it was over a period of time, but something caused them to pick up the evil stick and start running down the wrong path.
Your villain needs this backstory to explain why they are rotten to the core. If they have no valid reason other than just being born that way, your readers won’t fully buy into to them. It weakens your story.
Give the villain something to clutch tightly to their black heart, something to believe in so fully that there is no doubt it could have caused them to make these evil decisions.
Something has been festering and rotting their soul and now it’s about to burst out and reak havoc on the world.
2) Got Goals – They’re in it to win it! But what is it? What does your villain believe they need to be satisfied? What is the outcome the villain is working toward? Do they want vengeance, the crown, the glass slipper? You’ve given them the motivation for an evil state of mind, now give your villain a goal to shoot for. Do they want to conquer the world or simply murder your hero, once and for all? Give them a “Get’er done” prize worthy if a powerhouse villain.
3) Sweet Spot – The villain can be every bit as handsome charming, or funny as your hero. Just because they’re awful does not mean they don’t have any redeeming qualities. Selective kindness combined with some good looks. A sarcastic sense of humor and love for puppies.
Cute quirks and a form of kindness adds character and is all the more interesting and torturesome for your audience if they almost like the villain, if only they weren’t murdering people.
So, yes give your villain issues, but find one or two things that makes them more than pure evil. Give them a sweet spot. Otherwise, they may fall a little flat.
4) Justified – Some villains do not believe they are evil doers. It’s true! Villains often think they are heros doing the right thing in their version of the story.
How is this poosible?
Think of it this way, you could easily become a villain yourself with a little effort.
Think of a time when someone wronged or hurt you to the point you were devastated beyond repair. You didn’t know if you could ever recover, at the time. In those dark times, your mind likely took you to some pretty mean thoughts of how you wanted that person to hurt, too. You wished or thought of ways karma (or you) could pay them back for the suffering they caused you. And you felt justified.
Make the same happen in your villain’s mind, then multiply by 10.
5) Evil Almighty – Last, make your villain strong and clever. They must be as strong, if not stronger, than your hero. They must be impossible to beat, or so it seems. Your villain should be a clever mastermind constantly devising diabolical tactics in order to win.
If it is too easy for your hero to beat the villain, the story will feel weak. It will feel like a lie. And your reader will say, “Big deal.”
So, ensure your villain is a worthy opponent for your hero. It will keep your readers biting their nails, turning the pages and coming back for more of your literary genius.
Give your imagination permission to get messy, run wild and come up with some authentic villainous shit. Wash your hands later.
For a truly villainous read, grab a copy of Villainous Minds: Psychological Thrillers “. A collection of five short stories chock-full of badass villains! Free for Kindle Unlimited Members. WARNING: Adult content. Language, sex, violence.
Joan Wiley 😈
Great advice! The REALLY fun part for me is making sure the bad guy gets what’s coming to him in the end. In real life, too many get away with their crimes – sometimes for decades. My bad guys always get caught and punished. It makes me feel better!
Agree! Making them suffer is satisfying. 😁