Creating the ultimate fantasy villain


This is part 4 of my series on How to write a fantasy novel.

Who is your  ultimate fantasy villain?  Is it Voldemort? The White Witch of Narnia?

What did J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis do to make you love to hate them?

They crafted their villains with redeeming qualities.

Villains aren’t inherently evil anymore than protagonists are inherently good.  One thing to keep in mind is that villains don’t see themselves as evil. They have a purpose that makes complete sense to them, even though to the rest of us, their actions and ways of getting what they want are vicious and malevolent.

Villains aren’t always evil in appearance.  They can be quite good-looking, charming, lovable.  These types of villains usually feel they’ve been given the raw side of life since the day they were born.  They are often misunderstood and always have some sort of underlying issue we can relate to and empathize with:  child abuse, bullied as a kid, ignored by parents.  Once we understand where the ‘anger’ comes from, we, as readers, can understand, though not necessarily agree with, the villains motives for his destructive behavior.

One of the great things I love about writing villains is I can unleash the ‘evil’ side of me and project it on my villains.  Think about it.  How many times has someone done something to you or your family and you wish you could slap them silly or rip their heads off, but we can’t because…well, it’s wrong.  Our villains, however, have no sense of right or wrong. They want justice.  Retaliation. Getting even.  As writers, we can allow our villains to rip the heads off people, and get away with it…for a while.  Remember, evil never prevails in a fantasy novel, but we can certainly make the ride to his/her final resting place a roller coaster of heart-stopping events.

Another sort of villain to consider is the heroic villain, villains who set out to correct a wrong.  Think Anikan Sykwalker.  Good guy, until his parents were killed.  All he wanted was to set things right.  To hand out justice.  He believed he should be able to use his power to set the world right.  Unfortunately, his own power and greed corrupted him, and his inner nemesis, Darth Vader, took over. So strong was the ‘dark side’, he almost killed his son.  In the end, good overcame the bad and we all remember the final scene between Luke and his father.  Again, in fantasy, good always wins.

Another thing to remember when writing villains is never allow them to give your MC a break.  The MC always needs to be on his toes, on the lookout, for his rival.  Unless you are writing a comedy, the hero can’t rely on the villain to be a bungling idiot.  The villain has to be smart, cunning, and always seemingly one step ahead of the hero.

If you’re writing a fantasy novel for kids, consider making your villain a woman. Kids love their moms because they see them as caregivers.  A child’s worst nightmare is to have the loving, motherly character turn on them.  That’s why witches work so well in young children’s stories.

No matter what sort of story you write, make sure your villains can justify their behavior.  They must perceive their actions as logical and they must have a goal they are trying to obtain.  Make them as scary or charming as you want, but always give them an understandable human side that readers can relate to and empathize.

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13 thoughts on “Creating the ultimate fantasy villain

  1. What about a villain that used to be good? Like during the start of a series he seems pretty neutral, but once he gets betrayed is when the anger inside of him unleashes

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    1. I think that’s a great set-up. It shows his humanity, betrayal and reason for change. All villains have been wronged at some point. No one is inherently evil. They all have their good points. The more characterization you can show, the more you can touch on what happened to make them ‘bad’, the better you flesh out your character and the more your reader will be able to relate and feel something.

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  2. Now I am thinking about my two villians. They both, even though they are on opposite sides, striving for the same thing… to save the world.

    Is that bad? It is, if you are my MC.

    Both villians think they are doing the right thing. I don’t think either one of them is lovable, though. I’m not sure I could make them that way, although they are UNDERSTANDABLE.

    It’s interesting, having two villians with the same goal going up against the protag, who also has the same goal.

    Wow… Is my story really that complicated? Nah. 🙂
    (At least I hope not)

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  3. I haven’t yet created such a villain. I think maybe I was afraid to unleash that part of me. There’s some good advice, here. I especially like the part about the villainous female in a child’s story. It makes a lot of sense! 🙂

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  4. “One of the great things I love about writing villains is I can unleash the ‘evil’ side of me and project it on my villains.” Oh, this statement rings for miles and miles with truth. Very honest, Jenny, and I can think of many worse ways to project anger, than what you’ve suggested.

    Hm . . . what makes a great villain, at least to me, is one I can empathize with. It is not enough to “hate” them. I want to love them, too. I want to see through their cruelty and hatred, and see the person, the one redeeming quality that makes them likable. And then I want to decide I still think they’re awful. No one has ever, ever, ever done this for me more so than Diana Gabaldon with her character Jack Randall. Now there’s a depraved, iniquitous man.

    Wonderful post.
    ~ Cara

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    1. Are you talking about the Captain Jack Randall that appears in Outlander? Claire Randall steps through a stone hedge and is transported back 200 years to Scotland? She’s almost raped by Captain Jack but escapes. Later Jack captures her husband, Jamie? If I’m talking about the same guy you are…shiver.

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  5. Insightful post! I think my favorite takeaway was: “villains don’t see themselves as evil. They have a purpose that makes complete sense to them, even though to the rest of us, their actions and ways of getting what they want are vicious and malevolent.”

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