I’m not going to lie, writing villains can be the most fun you can have with a keyboard, or pen and paper.
Okay, so villain sounds dramatic. Or that there’ll be superheroes in the story. For the purpose of this post, by ‘villain’ I mean the antagonist. The character who could be creating obstacles for your main character to overcome.
Nearly every story will have its adversary. The person or creature who brings conflict into your plot and your protagonist’s life. It could be a horrible work colleague, an old toxic friend, a supernatural force, a serial killer, a person-eating dragon king or the Devil himself.
But it’s not as simple as writing a horrible, nasty, evil character. Nobody is truly all good or all bad in real life, and this must be reflected in fiction in order for the reader to feel connected to the characters and story.
Okay, so perhaps a supernatural force is all evil. Except, think about it. Where’s the fun in that?
The fun in writing and reading an antagonist is when they’re fully developed and 3D.
So how do you go about breathing life into your bad guy?
Your villain is a character too
All the work and time you’ve put into developing and breathing life into your protagonist will be wasted if you don’t put the same effort into your other characters.
Think of your villain as a full formed person. They have a reason that they’re doing what they’re doing. They have a reason that they’re creating the conflict with your protagonist.
This will likely be essential to the plot, so you need to figure this out.
The thing is, once you’ve cracked their motive, you’ll likely start to get an idea of their backstory.
Every good, well-developed character needs a backstory. You need to know where they come from. It could well explain why they’re acting the way they are.
For example, did they have a bad childhood? Did they go through something traumatic? Were they heartbroken? Were they given everything they wanted and never had to work?
Your villain is the hero of their own story
Once you’ve got your villain’s backstory and motivation sorted, you’ll know so much more about them. Now, it’s time to get into their head. You know why they’re doing what they’re doing, but what do they think about it?
If you’re struggling with this, try taking a scene with your protagonist but writing it from your antagonist’s point of view. What are they feeling about the situation? What do they think of your protagonist?
The more you get into their head, the more you’ll discover their vulnerabilities, and that is the key to a great character. That’s what makes them human and relatable.
You’ve probably heard this before, but everyone is the hero of their own story. You are the protagonist of your life story, but you’re a supporting character in your friend’s life story. You might even be the annoying or mean character in someone else’s life story.
Your antagonist will have good points. They should have certain aspects that the reader could agree with, where they could even get on your villain’s side.
Want some great examples of fantastic villains?
I LOVE a good villain. I often prefer them to the hero.
The movie Megamind is a great example of finding the vulnerabilities and love behind the supervillain.
If you’re a fan of Supernatural, you must have noticed how Dean Winchester in particular has started killing without thinking. He’ll happily slice up a demon despite the fact that if he put the effort in to exorcise the demon, he could save the human host. It’s a great example of how a hero can slowly rot and develop villainous tendencies.
When I say I love writing villains, I always think back to an unpublished novel I wrote many years ago about Lucifer. Actually, it wasn’t supposed to be his story, but he kind of took over because he was just so much fun to write. Lucifer tends to be my favourite whenever he crops up (see Supernatural again) and is done well.
He’s probably not the villain as such, but Glokta in Joe Abercombie’s The First Law trilogy is a torturer. He also easily becomes a favourite character once you get to know him. Same with Logan Ninefingers, the most feared Northman also known as the Bloody Nine, in the same series.
And my biggest recommendation? Vicious by V.E.Schwab. This book is all about the villains. Who is the hero? Who do you agree with? You can see everyone’s point of view but you’ll find you end up picking a side, no matter how problematic.
Do you like writing villains?
Who’s your favourite villain?