“V” is for…


Villains are important if you want a successful story, but how do you write a good great one?

Through trial and error and wonderful advice from rejections, I’ve learned the following.  You might want to keep them in mind as you are writing your own ‘Voldemort’:

1.  Don’t think of your villain as a traditional evil villain.  Simply put, the villain is the antagonist. He’s what stands in the hero’s way of success.  He can be likeable, friendly.  Your audience can love him…all the while he’s stabbing the hero in the back.

2.  Your villain has to have motivation. He can’t just be bad because he’s a villain.  Why does he need to get in the hero’s way?  What will he have to lose (or gain) if the hero succeeds?  Give your villain emotion.  Make your readers understand why he does what he does and even sympathize and/or empathize.

3.  Does your villain represent an aspect of your story?  What is his weapon of choice to defeat the hero? Love?  Greed?  Power?  Lust?  Wrath/Revenge?  Pride?

4.  Don’t dress your villains in black. Give them other signs of depravity and evil.  Show their characters as dark, contrasting him with the hero.  Where the hero would find a wallet and return it to its owners intact, a villain may return said wallet but only after removing the contents beneficial to him.  A preacher may teach the gospel with fervor and emotion, then go home and beat his wife and kids because they aren’t pure in the Lord’s name.  Find the good and counter it with the bad.

5.  Make sure your villain has at least 2 of the following traits:  independent, smart, resourceful, powerful, rich, charismatic, iconic, famous, friendly, relatable.

6.  Unless it’s necessary to the story,  stay away from the clichéd scars, disfigurements, ogre-like, warty appearances.  Villains are often average in looks.  Think The Elephant Man, where the hero was the one disfigured and the villain(s) were regular people – those who didn’t understand and lived in fear of what Joseph Merrick represented.

7.  Lastly, make up your own villains.  Don’t use other tried and true as models to build on.  Be your hero.  If you want to be the model parent of the year, what is the worst possible thing that would  stand in your way?  What face does it have?  Does it have to be another person? Can it be you standing in your own way?  (a drug or alcohol addiction that keeps you from making right choices).  Make your villain 3-dimensional.  Make him unique.  Make him yours.

Who are your favorite villains from what stories and why?

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16 thoughts on ““V” is for…

  1. Great advice! Voldemort is pretty much the villain of all time isn’t he? And we see what he was like as a boy and how he became dark, all pretty important. But we obviously still want Harry to finish him off ;0

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  2. You’ve made some excellent points regarding the building of a villain. Other commenters have come up with some of the best villains already, so I won’t say any more about it. I do want to congratulate you on the graphic you chose for this post. I don’t think you could have picked a better one! 🙂

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  3. Maleficent scared the heck out of my kids when they were little. I always thought she was the ultimate evil queen turned dragon. Hannibal Lecter, in my opinion, is the ultimate bad guy.

    I agree with you about Alan Rickman. I’ve loved him in everything I’ve seen him in. He actually played a good guy in Love Actually.

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  4. I love Malifiscent from Sleeping Beauty. So classy… How can you help but love her? I also like the Evil Queen from Snow White, because I met her in Disney World and she Totally Rocked!

    On a more adult note, I love Hanibal Lecter, and almost every bad guy that Allan Rickman has played (Snape, Sherriff of Notingham, and Hans Greuber) Awesome bad guys!

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  5. I learned a lot about writing good villains, believe it or not, from watching All My Children many years ago. Few of their heroes and heroines were without character flaws and moral weaknesses, and even their most heinous villains had redeeming characteristics. The small town mogul who kidnapped the local sweetheart and brainwashed her into compliance with his diabolical whims do so, after all, because he was deeply in love with her. The hero who also loves her comes to her rescue, breaks her mental conditioning with the power of his love and wins her love in return; but later finds himself having to account for a rakish past when former lovers return to deliver what they believe to be fair punishment for their broken hearts.

    Heroes are so much more relatable and lovable when they’re flawed, just as villains are more exciting and engaging when they’re pursuing what seems to them a noble aim. Thus, people like Superman, but they LOVE Batman; and we coldly loathe a real-world villain like Jeffrey Dahmer, but Hannibal Lecter thrills us as he chills us to the bone.

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  6. I completely agree. It’s all too easy to create a villain everybody will hate just by virtue of him being the bad guy. For me, I have to say, Alan Moore’s Watchmen is the best example of the whole good-bad conflict. There is no clear cut villain. Each character has so many layers to them, as a reader, you’re left to decide for yourself how much of the good/bad in them outweighs the other.

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