What is a great story without a great villain? In many cases, the villains make the story.
Yes, there could already be a great journey the main character goes on with great conflict, but a great villain amplifies everything.
It’s very interesting how in some cases, villains are remembered more than the heroes. Take Star Wars for example. Darth Vader, the villain, is the staple of that franchise.
Or how about The Silence of the Lambs? Hannibal Lecter is the character everyone remembers.
Writing a great villain can take time and a lot of careful thought. Here are a few tips to help you with that process.
This is a key point that so many writers pass over. Even the darkest psychopath is human at the core.
One of the most frustrating things about some villains is how they are used only as a device to propel the plot further along.
Yes, villains can assist in moving the plot along, but they shouldn’t be there solely as a catalyst.
One way to humanize your villain would be to give him a backstory. This can provide your audience with context on how or why this person became a villain.
Flesh your villain out. Do not make him one-dimensional. One-dimensional villains usually come across as cheesy and/or over-the-top.
One-dimensional villains can also lead to the totally evil antagonist. The villain who threatens to bring the apocalypse. Sometimes these villains can work, but often are very flat.
In my opinion, villains that are apparently purely evil are the worst types of villains. No one is completely evil. Yes, they may continuously make evil choices, but somewhere deep down there is something they care about.
One of my favourite examples of all of these points is Kylo Ren from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Kylo Ren is definitely evil, but not completely. There is a real struggle with what side of The Force he should be on.
He is given opportunities to be good, but he consistently chooses evil. Not because he is one-dimensional, but because deep down he fears he will never be as powerful as Darth Vader. His beliefs have become skewed, but that does not make him purely evil.
So remember, your villains are people too and can even be dealing with similar struggles than that of your hero.
Villains who are not smart and capable in their own way quickly become plot devices rather than an actual character.
Why would we even fear a villain who isn’t capable or even smart enough to thwart our hero? Seems like an obvious point, but it’s also extremely vital to think about when writing a villain.
One of the best examples of a smart and capable villain is The Joker from The Dark Knight.
This version of The Joker quickly proves to the audience (and all of the other characters in the film) that he is smarter than most and is entirely capable of carrying out his deadly plans.
The Joker preys on Batman’s weaknesses and outsmarts Gotham’s hero at every turn. In the film, The Joker relates his fight with Batman to that of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.
This is a great way of explaining what a smart and capable villain should look like. Not someone who merely stands in the way of the hero, but is of equal attribute.
A hero should have to overcome his struggle and rise above in order to defeat a great villain.
Keeping with the same example, The Joker not only stands in the way of Batman’s goal, but also has a goal that directly conflicts with Batman’s.
The Joker and Batman both want Gotham. Batman wants Gotham to be safe and peaceful and The Joker wants Gotham to be in chaos.
See how this affects the story?
This is a great example of why making your villain smart and capable adds so much more to your story.
How evil is your villain? No, but actually how evil is your villain?
Ask yourself this question and try to find some form of scale on which you can rank your villain.
Think of it this way: does your villain figuratively stab people in the back? Or does he literally stab people in the back?
Is your villain creeping around behind the scenes and orchestrating things, or is he out on the battlefield, cutting down good guy after good guy?
This is an important factor that needs to be established before you begin writing.
Your villains should be consistent throughout your entire story. Now that doesn’t mean your villain can never escalate. Feel free for the villain’s evilness to escalate, but ensure that it makes sense with their character and doesn’t deviate from why they are evil in the first place.
Also consider what genre you are writing in.
Look at Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Norman Bates is the perfect creepy villain for this film.
Psycho tells the story of a woman on the run, who hides in a secluded motel. What type of villain would be more creepy for this film?
A puppeteer, having his minions carry out various killings? This could work, but would end up becoming more of a mystery.
Instead, Norman Bates is the one doing the dirty work. The fact that his character is the owner of the motel gives the story more of a horrifying feel. Having the owner of a motel killing his guests is much more unnerving.
So again, make sure that your villain fits into the context of the story you’re writing and the world you’ve created. Keeping the example of Psycho in mind, when creating a villain, ask yourself this question: what would the strongest type of villain for your story?
If your villain is too over-the-top or kind of lame, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to make your story much more captivating. Making strong choices when creating villains will go a long way, much more than you may realize.
A great villain can easily enhance any story and like I mentioned above, sometimes a villain is remembered more than a hero.
I hope these tips will help you create interesting and complex villains.
Villains are often integral to a story, so why not take full advantage of that and create one to amplify what could already be a great story?
So remember, don’t just pass over your villain and make him a plot device. Utilize the character of a villain to its full potential and take your story to the next level.