Good Villains Are Hard

Good villains are hard – hard to find, hard to write, hard to develop.  Why?  Because they are pretty much the opposite of the person you really want to write about – your hero.

It's good to be bad.

It’s good to be bad. Art by SYoshiko.

But you need a good villain, or three, because otherwise your heroine will just sail through the story without breaking a sweat, and no one wants that.  Boring stuff.

Villains must be more than a smirking, overly-dramatic cartoon character.   They are complex individuals in their own right, otherwise they are unbelievable caricatures.   So, Snydely Whiplash is out, and ‘The Governor’ (Walking Dead) is in.

So, how to write a good villain?  Like everything, practice.  However, here are a few things I have read that have helped me craft a good villain:

  • Your villain is the hero of their own story.  Very few people see themselves as a ‘bad person’.  Villains almost never wake up in the morning and say “Hmmmm…how can I screw people over today for no particular reason?”  The villain has a story goal (just like your heroine has her own story goal) and the actions your villain takes – however despicable – should support that goal.
  • Your villain requires a back-story.  Even if this never makes it into your novel, you need to know how they came to be the way they are.  This will allow you to write them more convincingly.
  • Your villain is not all bad.  Everyone has good points, and your villain should have one or two redeeming characteristics with which most people can identify.  Are they loyal to family?  Do they protect helpless animals while killing anyone human who gets in their way?
  • Your villain is a match for the heroine – even better, the villain should be a little bit more than just a match.  Give them advantages that your heroine doesn’t have.
  • Your villain has weaknesses – they cannot be all powerful otherwise your heroine will never plausibly prevail.  Perhaps they are arrogant, or over-confident. Maybe they are physically frail, while wielding great political or financial power.

There is a lot more theory on writing good villains and I have included some links below.  However, if you are just starting to craft a villain and you’ve never done it before, the points above will set you in the right direction.

Links to writing good bad guys:

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