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Let's Talk About: Creating Villains

A villain (also known in film and literature as the “antagonist,” “baddie”, “bad guy”, “heavy” or “black hat”) is an “evil” character in a story, whether a historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the antagonist (though can be the protagonist), the character who tends to have a negative effect on other characters. [x]

Villain: A cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; a wicked or malevolent person; the main evil character and antagonist to the hero

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How Not to Create a Villain

  • Villains Who Take Over the Novel.
  • Obvious Villains.
    [If you’re having trouble with this, read the novels of Agatha Christie and other famous mystery writers to learn how to fool the readers while playing fairly. For an even better learning experience, try reading an Agatha Christie novel after finding out the identity of the killer. You’ll get great tips on how to conceal information right in front of the reader’s eyes.]
  • Clichéd Villains. 
    [The conniving other woman, the evil mother-in-law, the wicked twin sister. Some villains have been used so often that they have become recognizable character types. These characters still have a lot of life left in them, but only if you flesh them out.]
  • Villains with Unbelievable Motivations.
    [Nobody wants to read an entire novel only to find out that the villain was plotting against the hero the whole time because the hero stole away his prom date 20 years ago. If your villain is scheming and planning and committing crimes, he needs a good reason to go to all this trouble.]
  • Unnecessary Villains.
    [Powerful main characters can create plenty of conflict on their own.]
  • Utterly Evil Villains.
    [Some villains are simply too evil. Not only does he make life miserable for the hero and heroine, he also beats and rapes the servants, kicks the dog, and on top of that, refuses to recycle. Not only is this unrealistic, it is often trite.]
  • Villains Who Talk Too Much.
    [This one is a classic cliché. The villain captures your main characters, but instead of getting them out of the way, he goes into a spiel about how bright he is because he outwitted them all.]
  • Weak Villains
    [Imagine this scenario. You’ve been reading an exciting, suspenseful novel, and you’re close to the end. The hero is confronting the villain. You’re expecting a big payoff. But instead, the villain turns out to be a huge wimp who caves in quickly.]

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Writing Tips for Creating a Complex Villain

—Choose a model for your villain: an ordinary person, a celebrity, or a notorious criminal from the news; examine that person’s flaws and weaknesses. How have they wronged others? Discard their positive traits, magnify their negative traits, and write a brief character sketch. What’s the character’s name? What does he or she look like? What is going on in the character’s head that allows him or her to treat others with disregard?

—Give your villain a shady past: what terrible things has your villain done throughout his or her life? What terrible things were done to him or her? Some villains are just trouble makers; others are deranged psychopaths. How extreme is your villain?

—Identify the source: what happened to your villain to turn him or her so evil? Was your villain born that way?
—The most interesting villains are not completely evil. They have a soft spot for puppies or they write cheesy love poems. Contrary personality traits add depth and realism to all characters. Describe your villain’s positive traits.

—Put your villain in a scene: make sure you include dialogue so you can work out how the character speaks. Give your villain a distinct voice. Is your villain disguised as a benevolent character? Does he or she spend every waking minute committing evil deeds?

Real Life Inspirations Behind Some of the Best Comic Book Villains
Creating Villains People Love to Hate
Everybody Lies 
What Makes Serial Killers Tick?
The Making of a Serial Killer
The Greatest Female Villains
Female Villains: 10 Evil Women In Literature
Basic Tips To Write Better & More Despicable Villains
Seven Tips on Creating a Fantastic Fantasy Villain

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A good villain must be ACTIVE:
Writers often complain that they have trouble making the middle of their novel exciting. A villain who acts, instead of simply sitting around thinking evil thoughts, is the best possible cure for a sagging middle-book.

A good villain must be SMART.
When the author has the villain do something stupid so the hero can defeat him, it not only makes the villain look stupid, it makes the hero look weak.

A good villain must be SENSIBLY MOTIVATED, AND NO WORSE THAN HE HAS TO BE TO ACHIEVE HIS GOAL.
A credible villain can be motivated by anything from simple greed to self-preservation, from patriotism to revenge, from religious fervor to ambition to romantic love.  In short, anything that can motivate any normal person can also motive your villain.

[x]

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A great literary villain is not any one thing; some are moustache-twirlers or evil geniuses, some are darkly complex, tortured souls, while others are amoral crazies who act wholly on impulse. There are many ways to write a literary villain, but a unique characteristic often binds the truly memorable anti-heroes together: they are at least as complex as the heroes. [x]


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