Any tips on how to balance out making a villain likable enough where readers enjoy reading about them but not so likable that the readers root for them instead? Essentially, do you have any advice on how to write villains that readers love to hate?
I absolutely love villains and the very best villains are hard to come by.
We have answered several questions about writing antagonists that you should check out (here), bu I will give some of the basic tips that I’ve learned over the years.
Types of Villains
There are different types of antagonists, and different reasons why we love them.
- There are the chaotic good antagonists, doing the right thing for the wrong reason (Magneto from X-Men).
- There’s the lovable villains who are just bad at being bad (Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb or Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible).
- There are the ones that you just absolutely hate and you just want to watch them burn (Joffrey from Game of Thrones is pretty accurate).
I would advise that you start by determining what kind you want. Of course, your antagonist doesn’t have to fit any mold, but this is a good place to start if you have no idea.
Once you figure this out, you can move onto the next thing that will define your villain. After all, why would they oppose your protagonist if they didn’t have a reason? Granted, even the reason of ‘because they want to’ is a great reason. I found a list of 39 villain motivations that you can take a look at, but I’ll throw a few out:
- Revenge: (Hera from Greek Mythology, Gaston from Beauty and the Beast) They were scorned by somebody or something and will get them back.
- Fear: (Voldemort from Harry Potter,
Ichirō Yashida in The Wolverine) A chronic fear of something (death is a popular one) leads them to do whatever it takes to avoid it.
- Desire to better oneself: (Stephen from Maleficent, Aaron Burr from Hamilton) Starting out on the bottom and wanting to be at the top.
- Desire: (Ashfur from Warriors, Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame) If I can’t have him/her/them/it, nobody can.
- Rule: (Loki from Thor, Scar from The Lion King) I was born to rule and nothing will stop me.
Once you know what drives them, then you can figure out how they’ll validate their goal. What makes it more important than the risks and the cost of the goal? Why would Voldemort split his soul into multiple parts even though it would destroy who he was just to keep from dying? Is it a noble mission that they would sacrifice anything for? Is it something that a loved one died for and now they must complete it? Were they tormented as a child and want to make sure nobody goes through it again? Your hero has goals too, but they’re not likely to break every rule to achieve it. Crossing that line makes the villain different.
The biggest thing, I’ve always seen, is to remember that your villain is a person (or robot, alien, magical underground monster flower, etc.) and they have good points and bad points. They can be charming, funny, compassionate (I know of several DC villains who fight Batman constantly but refuse to attack orphanages because they themselves were orphans), loving spouses and parents, good friends, etc. Going against society or the law doesn’t make them 100% evil. And few readers enjoy villains that are 100% evil. There’s no personality.
Putting it all together
So to show an example of a good villain, I’ll give you mine.
One of my favorite villains of all time is Luke Castellan from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan, and I’ll tell you why. He truly believed that what he was doing was right. He was like all the other demigods, ignored by his godly parent and not taken seriously. He got tired of seeing his fellow demigods killed for no reason, and decided to get rid of the old system.
Then somebody with more power got a hold of him and gave him a way to do it. He knew that it was wrong and that he’d be breaking the rules, but he also knew that nothing else had worked. What’s a few lives lost if it saves countless others? Even when he fought against his friends he believed that he was saving them and that they would come around to his way of seeing things.
And even when he lost he believed what he was doing was right. He believed it so strongly that the readers believed it. You spent the books wishing that he would realize his mistake and come back to his friends, because you loved the character, but not his choices.
Please feel free to let us know if you have any other questions. Hope this helps!