How To Write an Unforgettable Villain in Your Novel
The Joker. Dolores Umbridge. The Darkling. Amarantha. Gollum. We all know who these villains are because they have stayed with us long after the final flip of the page. Cleverly carved a permanent mark in our hearts that we cannot deny, nor want to live without.
We understand and hate them at the same time. Sympathize with and loath them. Root for them one minute and wish them away in the next. At times, we even fall in love with them!
Because they peel back a layer we identify with as our own. Have reason for doing what their little hearts do—no matter how bad it may be—which is what turns a mediocre villain into an epic one. Investing time in creating the 'bad guy' in your novel is as important as the long hours spent perfecting your protagonist. A superb villain is who drives the action of the story, and without him (or her), your pages will be absent of plot, conflict, and consequences.
Are you ready to create that complex villain readers won’t be able to shed? Let’s do it!
#1. Motivation. Villains drive the plot. They are passionate creatures who believe what they are doing is right. A villain views themselves as the ones who have been done wrong by society, not the protagonist.
Give them a powerful reason why they do what they do, one so strong it keeps them up at night, plotting ways to achieve a personal mission they'd gladly hand over their life to get. Every action, step, heartbeat is for the soul purpose of getting to this goal. No. Matter. What.
But motivation must go a step further. Killing off the good guys or simply wanting to steal all the money in the world is not specific enough to make us second guess ourselves as readers. A villain's motivation must be understandable for us to make a solid connection. Give your audience that, “Ah, I totally get them!” moment. They will thank you for it!
#2. Relatability. If readers cannot identify with a villain, they will not waste their time getting to know them. For you, this won’t be the case because with your villain, you have already established an understandable motivation as mentioned above, right? But we still have more work to do.
Find a relatable quality for your readers. Maybe your villain is a grandfather, mother, or son. Perhaps they were neglected, bullied, or are a scorned lover. The more ways a reader relates to the underlying root(s) of your villain's motivation, the stronger your character's attraction will be with the audience. Bring them in close, so close they see themselves in your villain, and do not let them go!
#3. Ultimate Duality. A complex villain has a luster. Compassion collides with hatred. Vengeance with forgiveness. Despair with hope. A character with supreme duality encompasses different sides linked together in fantastic ways.
Enter Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—the ultimate duality of human nature and the idea that every human has good and evil within them.
#4. Hail to Humanity. No one is 100% bad. Dig deeper to find the good in your villain, that sliver of humanity hidden inside the hideousness of their madness. Think of this as a side that works against every action their erratic behavior screams.
Let’s put Damon Salvatore front and center. He is emotionally charged. Impulsive. Bruised. But beneath the remorseless bad boy exterior lies a yearning for love and acceptance. Come to find out, Damon is a bit of a softie. Who knew, right?
#5. Fuel the Fantasy. We cannot wreak havoc as we walk down a street, but we can in our stories—and get away with it! Push the boundaries. Don’t hold back. Give your villain every devious quality that gets under that perfect skin of your protagonist and drives them nuts!
With great power comes great fun. Strap on that safety belt, wordsmiths, and fuel your creativity. Time to #createyourepic!