As you write a villain, don’t slap a villain label on the character and move on. Why is your bad guy, we’ll call him BG, a villain?

A pure villain is someone who lives and breaths their world view. The ends justify the means. He has no problem killing anyone, including his followers, to attain his goal. As a pure villain, BG represents evil. He is the  easiest villain to write, evil with no good points, and he’s the least convincing villain. You must explain why he’s so devoid of sympathy towards others.

Next, there’s the villain who is forced to be evil. External influences determine his actions. Could be a magic amulet controlling BG’s action or simple blackmail. Does that mean BG isn’t evil? That depends on your story.

What if the villain is right? If someone killed your sister and stole her shoes, who’s the real villain, Dorothy, or the Wicked Witch of the West? It’s all point of view. Sometimes the villain of the piece is the authority figure whose purpose is to block the hero from his adventure.

What about a hero gone bad? Perhaps they think they’re right and their way is the only way to fix things. It could be BG’s become jaded or bitter and he doesn’t care about right or wrong anymore, just the end result.

Sometimes your villain becomes a good guy. How does this paradigm shift occur? Normally, the hero or circumstances help BG change. This is most often shown as BG saved by a good woman. Try to be a little more original than that, unless you’re writing a romance, in which case, you’re right on track.

The dumb villain is most often used in the comedy genre. Be carefully when using this villain or your story will turn campy. Your villain and hero should be near the same intelligence level or there’s probably no reason for the story.

The most important thing to remember about a villain is that BG is a villain because you haven’t heard his story yet. Every villain is a hero in his own mind.

To create a good villain, consider the following:

  • Make your villain believable. Flesh out BG’s story in three-dimensions. You must have a motive behind the desire. Why does BG want more power? Why must the world be destroyed? Why must the hero die? Remember, when creating backstory, only show your readers 10%.
  • Show how BG developed over time. This doesn’t require chapters. A few well placed comments or memories from BG will move things along nicely. BG should be complex yet subtle. Using read-between-the-lines dialogue is a proven technique.
  • Forgo campy or cliched dialogue. Unless you’re doing it on purpose make sure your dialogue is fresh. Show the plan, don’t tell the plan. Check out the dialogue between enemies in books you like. Make notes on how the author handled the dialogue.
  • Describe your villain. All villains seem to have a scar or cold dead eyes. Small habits or tics (be careful not to over do this) also help describe BG. A villain doesn’t have to be ugly. I would argue that a handsome or beautiful villain is much more believable, and far more interesting, since humans are drawn to beauty.
  • Create multiple opponents and accomplices. Show how BG interacts with his accomplices and his foes. Are they treated the same or are BG’s accomplices safe from his malevolence.

If you followed this advice, you have a good villain, but you want a great villain.

  • BG needs a clear goal and it should be in conflict with your hero’s goal.
  • BG needs some type of good point. Yes, he’s evil, but a personality trait that is in conflict with his evil nature is compelling. BG needs to have depth, with desires, quirks, emotions, and traits outside his evil nature. BG wants to destroy the world, but he treats his mother wonderfully and she has no idea he’s evil. If the reader sees a trace of themselves in the evil, BG becomes more relatable and more disturbing.
  • BG must do things that our conscience objects to or that angers us. A villain is only a villain if he does bad things. BG should scare the reader… and the hero. Fear should come from actions that prove BG is a villain.
  • The hardest thing about writing a villain is that BG should be original. Don’t create an evil character based on books you’ve read or stories you know. Ignore them. Take your evil inspiration from the real world. Surely from your past in grade school, high school, college, or your daily life as an adult, you’ve met someone you dislike, maybe loathe. Someone who intimidated or frightened you. Maybe you have your own inner demon, that person you hope you never become. Use those examples, magnify them, and you will have an original villain.

Check out Writing Great Villains  and The #1 Key to Creating Believable Villains for more detailed villain creation information.

This post is one in a series of self-improvement posts for the guild. Information is complied from guild experiences and research. RWG Posts contain all posts of this nature.