Every great story needs a worthy villain. A person who brings out the best and the worst in the protagonist. The bad guy who keeps the plot moving forward, and keeps readers hanging on the edge of their seat. The dark monster contrasting the hero’s brilliant light! But it’s not as simple as that. There are as many types of villains as there are types of stories and plots out there. How you choose to craft your villain is equally as important as how you craft your protagonist. Here are thoughts and questions to ask yourself so you can determine who your villain should be and what they should be like:
1. Does your villain think he/she is the real hero of the story?
If so, go into detail and discover why they think their way is the heroic way; and why they disagree with the real hero or protagonist. How is the villain’s goal different from the protagonist, and why do they believe in it so strongly?
2. Moral code.
If your villain thinks they are the hero, then do they have their own moral code? However twisted it may be? It’s one thing for a villain to behave horribly and do cringe worthy crimes, but it’s taken to a new level when he/she believes strongly in what they are doing, and defends their cruelty and evil as something just and necessary. Doing it “for the greater good” is a phrase these villains often use.
However, having a morality code also means there are some things that are “off-limits” for the villain. There is a line he/she won’t cross. What will that line be, and what could it involve?
3. Were they once an ordinary person like you and me?
If you want a villain who was once normal and real like any other person, it is the little details that make them human. Do they have a fond memory from the good old days? Do they have a favorite hobby or pastime?—and is it funny or endearing in some way?
How about a favorite food, something you wouldn’t expect a villain to like: marshmallows, cake, carrots? Barbossa in Pirates of the Caribbean loved apples. Do they have a sense of humor? Loki from the Marvel movies has a way of making us laugh!
If you choose a more relatable type of villain, next consider: If they were such an ordinary person to begin with, then what turned them toward the dark side? Know your villain’s backstory. Dig into the details and create a profile. Then add bits and pieces throughout your story for readers to get a glimpse of who they once were and how they used to be. And why it makes sense that they became the villain they are now.
5. Give them something or someone to care about.
Was it a part of their past, and is that something or someone now gone? Or is it still a part of their present, everyday life? And does it conflict with their moral code and drive them mad?
6. Or are they the purely evil type?
If you’re not careful with this one, your villain could end up another robot, cliché villain like those we saw on TV as kids. However, if done right, this can be a cold and terrifying villain. These villains are purely evil. Nothing bad ever happened to them, they were allowed to grow up selfishly—caring only for themselves and about getting what they want.
Perhaps they are used to always getting what they want? Maybe power is one of those things they want more of—hooked on it like a drug? This type of villain can be terrifying, as they have no reason to be so cruel and heartless; they just are. Like a spoiled child grown up but with a fierce power able to destroy the world, and they cannot be reasoned with. They could care less about “right or wrong.” They do what they want, and get what they want, no matter how it destroys the lives of everyone around them.
Although we are told nothing about Sauron’s past in the Lord of the Rings’ movies, how he came to be the way he is, it isn’t necessary to the story. He is a purely evil villain bent on destruction, and one who cannot be reasoned with—and that makes the danger very real for Frodo and his friends.
A book or film series can have several different villains, and each of them a different type. If done right, this can add further depth and complexity to the storyline. Having several villains for the protagonist to face and deal with at once can be interesting, especially when each one has their own agenda and beliefs. In my series Strayborn I have one villain who fits #6, while my other villain is more complex.
How you flesh out the character of your villain affects the story. They have an important role moving the plot forward, and dealing damage to the protagonist. They are more than just “villains;” there is more beneath the surface. Perhaps they were once like us; or maybe they grew up spoiled and seeking power. Maybe they are a jumble of emotions; or maybe they are as cold and lifeless as ice.
Comment below: who are your favorite villains and why? And if you’re a writer, which type of villain do you put in your stories?
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