You make great villains the same way you make any great character–by making them real and dynamic. But villains must be paid extra attention because they, along with the protagonist, provide the crux of the story: the conflict.
When I talk about villains, I’m talking not simply talking about the force or figure working against the protagonist. I’m talking about the bad guy. Not every story has a villain. But when a story does have a villain, they must be done well.
Villains should be:
And to be dangerous he must be:
Active. Not some uninvolved figure the hero is trying to bring down. Your villain should be working just as hard against the hero as the hero is working against them. A disinterested villain is boring and not at all scary.
Smart. I see this cliché a lot. The climax comes about and the villain does something exceptionally stupid so the hero can defeat them. They stand there and give their spiel so the hero has time to escape/be rescued. They think “Oh, there’s no way he’ll get out, might as well call my guards away."
Having a stupid villain makes the hero look weak, the win feel cheap, and the writer look lazy and unimaginative.
Purposeful. I don’t know any person or thing in real life who embraces evil for evil’s sake. There should always be a reason for your villain’s villainy. Similarly, your villain shouldn’t be running around being bad just to show how bad they are–that’s cheap and hollow. Everything should have purpose or it loses meaning.
Example: James Moriarty from BBC's Sherlock. Sherlock describes Moriarty as "He’s a spider, a spider at the center of a web, criminal web with a thousand threads and he knows precisely how each and every single one of them dances." Moriarty is depicted as someone whose intelligence and skill is widespread, all-encompassing. He is a very powerful man with a very bad purpose, and that makes him dangerous.
Your villain and what they represent (the conflict) should have real-world resonance. Without this connection to issues in the life of the reader, the villain is only relevant within their story. That can make for an okay story, but it will never make for a great one.
Great stories are the ones that crawl inside you and live there for a while, and that won’t happen unless the reader can connect deeply with the conflicts within your story.
Your villain must stand for something bigger than themself. Every character should to an extent, but especially the hero and the villain. Think about your favorite book, show, movie, etc. Almost certainly it deals with an issue that you can connect with deeply whether it be cultural identity, social inequality, heartbreak, struggling with self-love, and on and on. You care so much about that story because it is relevant to you.
Example: President Snow. He represents something that teenagers are starting to realize is a very big issue in the real world: corrupt government. Dystopia. There are startling parallels between how the Capitol wants to spin the romance in the Games to distract from the literal murder of children by other children and how our own media focuses more on Team Gale/Team Peeta than on the horrifying themes addressed within the book and movie. The movies are their own sort of sick irony, perpetuating this issue of the rich getting richer while presumably speaking out against it.
Do not get this confused with realistic. Real simply means believable, honest, understandable. Your story is fiction, after all, so not every element of your story needs to be "realistic.”
Your villain should be as multi-faceted as your hero. This goes back to giving your villain purpose. The reader should be able to see where your villain is coming from even if they don’t agree with their actions. Your villain should have strengths, flaws and should be dealing with issues the reader can get.
Example: think about how the perception of Voldemort changes throughout the series as more and more of his past is revealed. The reader begins to understand why Voldemort hates Muggles and Muggle-born witches and wizards, but his actions are never justified.
And if you want your villain to be really fucking compelling, those many facets of their personality and desires should have a direct relationship with the hero. The villain and the hero should have chemistry so the conflict between them is amplified and made more complex. This can be done by having the villain directly parallel the hero, or having them directly oppose the hero–but honestly it is best done with some of both.
Example: the Joker (I know–you can’t talk about great villains without bringing up this asshole). In The Dark Knight, there are direct parallels between the Joker and Batman: both are just human, both technically hide behind a mask, both are incredibly smart/skilled, the Joker says Batman “completes” him, even going on to say, “Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me!”
But the Joker also compares them to “an unstoppable force” and an “immovable object.” They are so similar, but in different directions. The Joker wants chaos, Batman wants order. I read an excellent post analyzing their relationship here on tumblr and I can’t find it which makes me so sad, but it basically said that Batman represents what people can be at their very best, the Joker represents what they can be at their very worst.
That relationship, that chemistry, adds layer upon layer to the conflict, making it that much more interesting and compelling.
Peeta is one of my first book boyfriends. I have a lot of book crushes, but book boyfriend status only comes after I’m convinced I would be willing to build an entire fictional life and bear fictional children with that character. It’s a short list.
Anyway, when I saw this print from @windowshopgal I basically couldn’t live without it. But aside from the gorgeous print, it came with an amazing letter from Peeta on Mellark bakery letterhead. (I also got the Yule ball print which I will show later, and it came with an invitation to the Yule ball) What I’m trying to say is the PACKAGING AND DETAILS ARE EVERYTHING. @windowshopgal items are more than a purchase, they are an experience.
I love having this little tribute (pun intended) to one of my favorite characters and one of my favorite series in the house.
Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale? (a secret? I actually didn’t want Katniss to end up with either of them. haha.)
Some Peeta feels for you:
🍪“I realize only one person will be damaged beyond repair if Peeta dies. Me.” - Hikari, I mean Katniss.
🍪“I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” -Peeta
🍪“At a few minutes before four, Peeta turns to me again. “Your favorite colour … it’s green?”
“That’s right.” Then I think of something to add. “And yours is orange.”
“Orange?” He seems unconvinced.
“Not bright orange. But soft. Like the sunset,” I say. “At least, that’s what you told me once.”
“Oh.” He closes his eyes briefly, maybe trying to conjure up that sunset, then nods his head. “Thank you.”
But more words tumble out. “You’re a painter. You’re a baker. You like to sleep with the windows open. You never take sugar in your tea. And you always double-knot your shoelaces.”
Then I dive into my tent before I do something stupid like cry.”
― Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay
When someone asks you if you’re ‘Team Peeta’ or 'Team Gale’
When someone takes a powerful story about unjust governments, the strength and weakness of a young girl thrust into a violent and terrifying world, and young children being forced to kill each other to make a 'point’t, and turns it into a fucking love story.
The evil other woman exists in nearly all romance fiction, but she is in many stories with romantic subplots, as well. She is selfish, vain, petty, and jealous, and she is determined to keep your goody two-shoes main character away from getting her man (who is, of course, way too good for the Other Woman).
Why this can be bad: I want to burn this trope to the ground. Not only is it incredibly boring, it’s absolutely horrid. These women are so often painted as jealous monsters forcing their men into staying in a relationship, with no other motives but because they don’t want your MC to have him. Not only does this encourage the disgusting competitiveness between women and the idea to see each other as rivals rather than friends, it is also nearly exclusive to women. When there is Another Woman in romance fiction, she is almost always painted as a horrific monster. In these love triangles, no reader wants the man to stay with her. When it comes to the Other Man, however, the female protagonist is often torn between both of them and fans of the novel can’t decide who would be the best fit for her. Are you Team Jacob or Team Edward? Team Gale or Team Peeta? Team Spike or Team Angel? However, no one ever asks Team Myrtle or Team Daisy? Team Cersei or Team Lyanna? As with everything, there are exceptions, but primarily one woman is presented as evil, not caring if she cheats or schemes to keep her man, and the other is a virginal paragon of virtue.
How you can fix it: Write women like actual human beings. Things are never starkly black and white. Quite often, the “other woman” isn’t evil. She probably doesn’t even know she’s the other woman. If she acts harshly to your protagonist after your MC and male character shared a tender (but virtuous) moment in an elevator, she’s probably right to feel that way. Legally Blonde uses this trope wonderfully, making it very clear that though the other woman (Vivian) is kind of an asshole, she’s also vulnerable, and by the end, she and Elle are able to become friends, teaming up against the real asshole of the movie, Warner. While this still incorporates some female rivalry and the drama of the love triangle, it ends with female solidarity and character growth. And for the love of everything, stop pitting the virgin against the sexual woman and trying to equate virginity with goodness and sex with evil. It’s the 21st century.
Bottom Line: Stop making the Other Woman inherently evil. She’s a human, and therefore three-dimensional. Treat her that way.