Hi! I was wondering if you had any advice on writing a good villain. I don’t want her to be two dimensional, but I don’t know how to prevent that. Would it help if I explained my story a little bit more?
Congrats @positively-pan, your ask has been chosen as one of my Long Posts™. Sorry It took so long to make this!
Tips on How to Write A Good Villain
Oh no! It’s the big baddy!
They’re the worst of the worst!
They’re ruthless antagonists!
They’re ready to kill!
They’re………the weakest and most uninteresting character in your entire story.
A lot of the times when I’m reading, I come across books that are great. Their plots are amazing, their protagonists are believable and incredibly well-developed, but I find myself disliking them because the antagonists are, well, awful to say the least.
I don’t understand when it became a common misconception that villains don’t have souls.
“They’re edgy™ and don’t need souls, all they need to do is wreak havoc, take lives, and bask in sweet, sweet wicked malevolence”
This mindset has completely ruined many villains, especially in YA, because what people claim is “edgy” and “emotionless” and “evil” just comes off as “I was too lazy to develop this character.”
Yes! That’s right! Villains ARE characters, and that means you have to develop them just like all your other characters, and I’m talking the character charts and everything. The whole nine yards. Just because they’re the villain doesn’t mean you can slack, you bum.
There are, however, special measures you have to take to develop a villain that makes it different from developing a protagonist. So I’m going to list of some tips that will help make your villain just as great as your heroes!
1. Personality, Personality, Personality
Yes!!!! Villains have to have personality!!!! They’re characters!!!! How!! many!! passive!!! aggressive!!!! exclamation points!!! do I have to add!! to get this through everyone’s heads!!!!!!!!!!!!
“I can skip this step, Maddy,” you tell me smoothly, sliding a picture of your Man Crush Monday villain over to me with twenty bucks taped to the back.
I burn the picture and take the twenty bucks.
Here’s how you know your villain is underdeveloped/doesn’t have a personality:
If I asked you to write down all of your villains traits and you only have things like “Evil. Mean. Bad. Really bad. The baddest. [Insert synonyms for evil here]” then you have a problem.
Just because you’re character is a villain doesn’t mean they don’t do other things. Being a villain may be their life’s work, but they also do other things on the side; there isn’t a villain who should be only evil and nothing else.
Maybe your villain likes knitting. Fishing. Maybe your villain is very family-oriented. Maybe your villain is very smart. And I’m not talking cunning smart, I’m talking like geek/nerd smart; give me a villain who has a passion for history or marine biology or something! Do it, you cowards!
2. They Need to Have a Motivation
Like with personality, they can’t be doing what they’re doing to the protagonists “because they’re, like, evil”.
They need to have a reason to strive for what they’re doing. They need to have an incentive to perform all of these atrocities, need to have something that spurs them on to work for their goal.
Here’s a list of motives that you can choose from:
Serve a master
3. They Need to Be a Do-er
Yeah, this book was great! The protagonist saved the day! The supporting characters were amazing! The antagonist…was just sort of there.
Nuh-uh. Nope. I will NOT stand for this.
Your villain has to be an active participant in the plot. They need to be doing everything in their power to keep the protagonists from defeating them/achieving their goal, and if your villain is just mentioned and never really does anything, what’s the point?
I once read a book where the antagonist didn’t do anything until halfway through the plot. Like???? No??? That’s not how it’s supposed to work?????
If they’re an antagonist, they need to be making obstacles for the protagonist. These obstacles are essential for your plot, which is the reason why your antagonist is essential for the plot; they need to create conflict like the antagonists they are!