How to write a great villain? How to create an antagonist that will really challenge your hero and keep the story engaging?
Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a small list of things you can use as a sort of template for this exact goal. These steps are not ordered by importance.
Let’s not waste any more time and get writing!
Designing Good Villains For Your Book – A List Of Writing Tips
Table of contents:
- Creating The Basic Foundation For Our Bad Guy
- Writing The Backstory
- Figuring Out The Motivation Of Our Antagonist
- Granting Our Villain Some Powers And Weaknesses
- Celebrating Our Freshly Created Villain
1. Creating The Basic Foundation For Our Bad Guy
Let’s give the villain some clothes, weapons, and personality
Many villains are known from their attire. Sauron has his dark and menacing armour and we all can instantly recognize Darth Vader by simply seeing him.
So what should we think first?
I like to consider the weaponry my villain uses. If he’s a magical wizard man, a legendary staff is a good choice. If he’s a commander in the empire’s army, a blade fits him just fine.
This is also a good moment for us to think about our villain’s personality. There are many different types of villains, the loud and brutal ones, and menacing silent ones, and the cold-hearted, yet efficient leaders.
Whatever we will choose to do here, we must be aware that our villain’s backstory might affect his personality a lot. If you don’t have a backstory in mind at the moment, thinking through the villain’s possible personality might give you some direction and ideas for the backstory.
2. Writing The Backstory
The reasons for the actions are often found in the history the a character
This is undoubtedly my favourite step.
People are today because of the choices they made yesterday. Thus, we must give extra care for our villain’s history in order to make his motivations strong and really make him a real and lively character.
The last thing we want is to create a villain who is evil and brutal, yet has absolutely nothing in his history to justify this. Do note that sometimes having no justification might work, with mentally crazy characters for example.
The backstory opens the door for some great storytelling and I want to share one of my favourite traits with you now.
I love the redemption arch. I love writing villains who will in the end realize they were wrong and sometimes turn away from evil.
How do we achieve this? By making a strong backstory.
A good way to do this is to give your villain some tragic events in his life. Maybe he lost his family, his love, his sense of purpose? Try to find something that could really turn someone over the edge. It’s unlikely that losing a pair of your favourite socks would turn you to work for the evil empire, aye?
There must be something in the villain’s history to motivate him to do what he does. Thus, by creating an intriguing backstory for your villain, it becomes really easy to figure out his motivation.
See? Nearly all of these steps are intertwined. Isn’t that just beautiful storytelling, my friend?
3. Figuring Out The Motivation Of Your Antagonist
A villain without a strong motivation is as interesting as a piece of cardboard
So, our villain lost his family, his daughter, his wife. Now, he’s working for the evil emperor, trying to avenge his family by doing evil deeds with a cold and emotionless heart.
The motivation for this particular villain was explained in just a few words. This is what we should always try to reach, for if we know the villain’s motivation clearly, we can start playing with it and write some sweet plot points for our story.
If you haven’t quite figured out your villain’s history just yet, you can figure out his motivation by simply asking, “Why is my villain doing what he’s doing?”
A good thing to keep in mind is that if your answer is “because he wants power,” your villain will become a bland and boring character. Some older villains may have used a very simple motivation, but if there’s absolutely no depth, no burning desire for the villain, the story won’t move forward.
One more tip about the motivation. Many villains believe they’re doing the right thing. Many villains indeed see themselves as the hero and this opens a lot of opportunities for some interesting character conflict.
Get those pieces together, one by one. Soon, you’ll have a villain who has a motivation to drive him towards his evil plans.
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4.Granting Our Villain Some Powers And Weaknesses
How will our antagonist challenge the heroes? How can the heroes defeat him?
This step depends mostly on who our antagonist is. Is he just a regular man, a demigod, a dark lord?
It helps to think about the biggest weakness and strength of our villain early on. This can help us both flesh our the villain, but also to assist us in the actual story writing process.
Let’s take an example.
In The Lord of the Rings, Sauron’s biggest weakness and strength is the One Ring. This one object gives entire purpose for the whole story, while still fleshing out Sauron’s character.
This is what we should aim for. We want to figure out how will our villain bring our heroes down, but also what will lead to his downfall.
One of my favourite traits here is blind hatred/lost meaning. I like to mix my redemption villains with flaws that make them blind to their mistakes, which my heroes will use to bring him down and redeem him, in the end.
The same thinking process goes for figuring out the villain’s strength, though this time we’re thinking what is the weakness of our hero.
Heroes and villains complete each other, thus, if our villain is highly calculative, our hero could be impatient one, chained to his emotional cycle of reacting. In this example, we’ve already given our villain some strengths, while creating conflict, a game of chess between our hero and villain.
In the end, you’re totally free to do whatever you desire with your heroes and villains. Just remember that a good villain isn’t just an allpowerful god-like creature. Villains must feel real as well. They too are people, or at least once were…
5. Celebrating Our Freshly Created Villain
The challenger is ready
Congratulations! You’ve done it!
You’ve created a villain with deep backstory, interesting and strong motivation, and powers/weaknesses that will challenge your heroes and move the story forward.
Every story needs a great antagonist to create conflict and every antagonist deserves to get written like a real character.
Hopefully, you found this article helpful and inspiring. That’s what I’m here to do, after all.
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Until next time, blessed be your day and may your words flow like rivers.