Saturday, October 16, 2021

Everyone Loves a Good Villain


We spent countless hours combing over our main character's every detail. Their height, eye color, inner motivations, outer actions. We have got a reason for them all. But what about our bad guys? How much time do we spend developing them?

Is there anything worse than an underdeveloped antagonist for a protagonist? For the sake of this post, we are going to say no. 

You see, we understand what motivates our protagonist. We can tell you what incident from childhood (or adulthood) changed them irrevocably. But can we do the same for our bad guys? As you sit down to think up your next villain, allow me to suggest a few areas to consider. 

Consider Their Motivation

Sure, we could make a villain unlawful evil. There's certainly a place for them in fiction, but more often than naught, our antagonist became that way for a reason. It's our job to understand where their motivation comes from even if they see less page time than our main character. 

Consider the Type of Bad Guy You Need

What if you made your antagonist someone your reader wanted to root for at times of the book? Maybe they could become that character that takes things a bit too far, but we can understand why it all went wrong for them. 

What if you switched the morality of the story? In the villain's mind's eye, are they really the good guy? If so, how does that ideology manifest in their interactions with the other characters in this story?

Your book might need the bad for bad's sake villain, but it's just as possible that your book needs a bad guy with a bit more to them. Avoid those simple, one-dimensional characters when you can, but definitely when that character is your antagonist. Otherwise, it will make your hero's victory less impactful. 

Make Sure Your Villain Follows Through

If your bad guy threatens to do something, then have them do it. Having an all bark no bite antagonist will frustrate your reader. We need the drama. Those nail-biting moments are what readers live for, so give them as many as you can. 

No matter what bad guy lives in your story's universe, give them a little extra attention because it will pay off for you and your reader in the long run. Think about what is driving them to be bad (or good in their mind). Give them lots of threats to follow through on, and make sure to pick the right one to go head to head with your main character. Because who doesn't love a good buy guy?


Nancy Gideon said...

The villain is usually my favorite character in a book/movie because he's the measure of the hero. He's the bar the hero must rise to in order to earn the heroine. The Sheriff of Nottingham in Costner's bland portrayal of Robin Hood is my ideal, the bar to achieve complex villainy. He's multi-faceted, fun, deep, dark and fun. For dark, slick villainy it's Rutger Hauer in Nighthawks - so suave, so cool, so heartless. Perfection.

Mary Morgan said...

Great post! I do love a good villain, April. I recall the advice my editor gave me when she learned my villain would remain throughout all five stories in my first series. She told me don't 'box in your villain' and become predictable. The best advice ever! With each story, I shared a piece of his inner self and motivation. I didn't reveal the huge twist until the last story.

Diane Burton said...

I've been thinking about the villain in my Outer Rim series. He revealed some of his motivation in the 1st book of the series. Now that I'm at the 4th and last story, he needs to reveal more--first to me (lol) then to the reader. Great post, April.

Maureen said...

Great tips! I love a good villain. Thanks for sharing!