Saturday, February 19, 2011

7 Steps to Creating a Memorable Villain

A boring bad guy can sink a good book.

I love a good villain.  They get to do whatever they want, say anything to anyone at anytime and get away with it.  Whether it is a book or a movie, a good villain will make it great.  Too many writers focus all their energy on the protagonist and yes, the protagonist is important--but don't forget the bad guy.  Make him awesome.  Here are a few tricks to help things along.

While creating your antagonist, remember a villain is the hero of his own story.  I've heard this many times and it's true.  Bad people don't see themselves as bad.  They are misunderstood or victims forced to behave in a certain manner because of the actions of others. 

1.  Give him a wonderful history: Everyone has a past.  What makes this guy tick? What turned him into a villain?  No on is born pure evil, and the days of writing about villains who don't have true motivation are long gone.  Give your antagonist a wonderful, rich and creative background.

2.  Give him shared traits with the protagonist: Give them common ground.  There are a lot of stories with heroes and villains who share similar backgrounds.  Look at Voldemort and Harry Potter.  Neither of them had loving families they could turn to.  Both saw Hogwarts as their true home.  But they both chose a different path.  Voldemort decided he craved power, while Harry wanted to be surrounded by friends and loved ones.  You can also use shared traits to bring the two together before sending them in opposite directions.  Maybe the protagonist likes the villain--until he figures out his friend isn't so nice.

3.  Make him stronger: No one wants to read a book or see a movie about a hero who obviously is going to win the battle with the bad guy.  His future has to be uncertain or the reader will lose interest.  Make the villain stronger, faster, better.  Pin the hero to the floor.  Then let him win... or not.  It's your story.

4.  Everyone loves a witty villain: We don't want to read about a boring bad guy.  Give him a sharp wit, a sarcastic tongue, maybe a bit of charm.  All of these things will make the reader crave more.  Of course you need to have a hero who can hold his own.  We don't want the reader to root for the bad guy.

5.  Give him a goal: I hear it said all the time that the protagonist needs to have a goal.  Well, so does the villain.  Give him a clear goal from the beginning.  If it opposes what the hero wants most, even better.  A major part of your conflict can come from this if done right.

6.  Nobody has perfect days: Everything the villain does should not work out perfectly.  Case and point: the coyote that stalks the Road Runner. 

7.  Villains have friends too: Don't close him off.  Show a scene or two of the antagonist interacting with a family member, friend, or employee.  Show him as human. 

Well, there you have it.  Speaking as an avid reader, we want great heroes, yes, but give us a super villain too.  Happy writing.

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