We believe that the reason writing is so unique is the fact that the rules and structure used are determined solely by the writer. Therefore, creating any character in a book – whether villain or hero – based on a formulaic set of characteristics is a fundamentally flawed strategy. However, we all need to start somewhere, so here are a few points to consider when you’re devising the bad guys in your stories.
1. The best villains are never forgotten
To be an entertaining villain, it is not enough for a character to be ‘bad’; the more dimensions a writer can craft into a villain’s personality, the better. It is important not to be left with a two-sided argument of good versus evil. Instead, the development of the argument must move forward with ebbs and flows, nuances and crossovers, which will make the story, and your villain, more interesting and memorable for your reader.
2. Choose a villain that interests you personally
This will encourage you to find out more about them, as well as make you constructively picky about the finished product. In her article ‘How To Choose Your Villain’, author Laura Powell explains how she came to write a two-book series about witches, despite feeling they had been ‘done to death’ in literature. By researching thoroughly and then rethinking their traditional image, she was able to craft two bestsellers about witches despite their apparent clichéd nature.
3. Complexity is key
On the spectrum of hero-antihero, don’t keep too close to the middle. However, in the same way, it is important to try not to cement the alignment of characters either. Keep the villain’s behaviour varied just as a hero may possess some darker characteristics. In reality, the mind is complex and nothing is black and white; nor should it be in literature.
4. Make your villain believable
As well as deciding on your villain’s appearance, also consider their background and make sure to flesh these out substantially. This is all part of convincing yourself of the reality of the villain as much as your reader; using aspects of a person or people you know well will help to make your villain’s personality convincing.
5. Give your villain a motive
Providing insights into a villain’s motive can allow readers to relate to – and even sympathise with – the villain, inviting emotional involvement in the story. A motiveless villain who appears in a book purely for the sake of it may grow tiresome by the final pages, and fails to drive the plot forward in any way. The inspiration for villainy is just as important as that for good.
6. A villain with allies or henchmen can give them power, making a hero seem increasingly helpless in the face of evil
When faced with a villainous mastermind wielding immense power, the strategy required for the hero to be victorious is likely to need a more complex and interesting approach – for example, the increased mental capacity of Sherlock Holmes quickly allows him to unravel the cunning of his opposition, while the reader remains baffled and in awe until the very end.
7. Finally, refine your recipe
When encountering your villain at various stages in your story, is there anything that you feel is unconvincing, lacking in depth or impact? Ask yourself these questions whenever you come across your villain, and strive to improve their character again and again until you are happy with the finished product.
Are you interested in honing your creative writing skills online? Why not find out more about the Creative Writing for Beginners and Constructing a Novel courses from Penguin Random House, delivered to you 100% online by The Writers’ Academy?
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