Some of the most compelling characters in fiction, and even in history, are the villains. Their stories and motivations can be incredibly interesting, and their actions advance plotlines and often just mess with things. Sometimes it’s fun to have the sort of villain that generally likes to ruin things, but the best villains are those with something behind the explosions and psychotic mischief. If you want a villain that is a real character, instead of a simple bad guy, try some of these tips:
- Make an enjoyable villain
There is absolutely nothing worse than an irritating villain. Terrifying? Great. Totally psychotic? Wonderful. But irritating? No. A villain is a character, just like any other you create; they should be someone your audience enjoys reading about or learning more about, even if they don’t actually like them.
- Personal history
Everyone has a past, even the villains. And in the case of villains, a past is incredibly important, because it can be a huge indication as to how they became the terrible people they are.
Everything a villain does has to have some sort of reason behind it. Maybe a personal history turns a villain into someone capable of evil, but there are specific motivations behind each action. Now, these reasons don’t have to be good ones. Villains tend to be rather damaged, so their judgment will probably be flawed, but they will still have some type of reason for the things they do. Those reasons can be as simple and twisted as a worship of chaos or a need to make others suffer as they have. But they’ll have reasons nonetheless.
- A villain isn’t necessarily an antagonist
Villains and antagonists are not synonymous. Often the two overlap, but they don’t have to. Villains are bad people; antagonists are people whose interests directly conflict with those of a protagonist. That is a detail people often get confused. Sometimes it’s interesting just to have a villain around as a side character; sometimes you can even use them as protagonists to put a different spin on things.
- Redeeming characteristic
No matter how evil your villain is, no matter the terrible things they could bring themselves to do, it’s always good to give them some redeeming characteristic, no matter how small. This can be anything from a soft spot for something art, to a secret loathing for their own evil nature.
- Every villain has a style
Villains have personalities, just like everyone else, and they will have their own ways of going about things, they will all be their own type of villain. Of course there could be those villains who just generally worship chaos. But mostly villains have their own personal style of villainy, from emotional manipulation to psychological torture, from pulling the wings of butterflies to blowing up skyscrapers. Things your villains do should be things that are consistent with their own brand of evil.
It is important to give a villain an Achilles heel, even a tiny one. They need ways to be brought down, ways to be stopped. They need a way to be shown they are human. And that’s what weaknesses are.
I am not a super villain. All I am is a writer. These tips are purely from a writer’s perspective, nothing more. This is just the best advice I can give, but really, I know as much about the deeply twisted as anyone. These aren’t all-powerful truths; these are tips to start you along the path to (written) villainy.