Look up “how to create a villain” (or some other keyword variant) and what you find are many articles or blog posts that describe the definition of a villain, as if that’s all you need to know to be on your way to creating a successful villain in your story.
I didn’t become a math genius by looking up the definition of calculus.
Most help articles don’t spend a lengthy amount of time defining what that how-to subject is because writers can assume that the reader can define that subject in his/her own words based on the specific Internet search.
When it comes to crafting villains, this is the exception to rule. Whether we like to admit it or not, many of us don’t have a full grasp on what a villain is and his/her role meant to be played in your story.
Maybe a little true?
Yes, this blog post will push you to ask questions that can shape your villain into being just as strong of a character as your protagonist. But it’s key to first really—I mean, really—understand the role your villain (and I don’t mean antagonist) is meant to play in your story.
What is a Villain?
In well-written stories, the struggle is real for the protagonist. In our favorite stories, the battle seems impossible for the protagonist to conquer throughout the entire journey.
This is where a strong villain can make or break your story.
A villain is the character who intentionally acts in direct conflict with your protagonist. A villain’s goal is for the protagonist to not succeed and suffer at every twist and turn.
It’s a one-dimensional thought to label the villain as “the bad guy,” even though that is the role the character plays within the story. Because your villain does not see him or herself as acting in the wrong. In fact, the villain plays the protagonist within their side of the story.
Your reader should never see it this way, but as the writer, you must be able to craft his or her side of the story with this approach so that the villain plays both the villain from the reader’s perspective and the protagonist from the villain’s perspective.
Doing this will bring depth to your villain, strengthen his or her motives within the plot and make your readers love to hate your villain.
Villain vs Antagonist
Even though the words villain and antagonist are used interchangeably, they actually play different roles within your story. In fact, you can have both an antagonist and a villain within the same story without the plot getting too crowded.
A villain has evil or downright bad intentions, while an antagonist acts as your protagonist’s competition. Your protagonist and antagonist may want to reach the same goal, want the same thing or hold conflicting viewpoints. While the antagonist’s actions may work against what your protagonist is trying to achieve, the antagonist doesn’t hold bad intentions or embody evilness.
Your antagonist can be serious or act as comic relief within your story. Unlike the villain, you don’t want your readers to hate your antagonist. Rather, you want your audience to feel the frustration your protagonist feels throughout the journey whenever the antagonist’s actions get in the way.
Here’s How You Craft a Convincing Villain
Long story short: You create your villain as you created your story’s protagonist.
But we all know that’s easier said than done.
So take it step by step. What are your villain’s motivations? What external complication does your villain confront? What internal struggle must your villain face?
I recommend following this character-developing checklist that takes you step by step through the process of shaping your villain to be a worthy opponent for your protagonist. While this post is focused on shaping a protagonist, your villain believes to be the protagonist of his/her story, so approach shaping his/her character from that perspective, just with a differing (and unfortunate in his/her case) end result.
As you follow these steps, keep your protagonist in mind. How does your villain’s motivations compare to your protagonist’s motivations? Does your villain’s point of view of the external fight add more weight to your protagonist’s viewpoint? Does the internal struggle for both your protagonist and villain share a theme?
Keep These Villainous Traits in Mind
Once you can define the big picture for your villain is when you can allow yourself to dive deep into the details to make your villain stand out in your story.
Not sure if your villain is strong enough for your story? See if your protagonist’s opponent lives up to these key points:
- Your villain sees him/herself as the protagonist
- Your villain has several likeable qualities
- Your villain is a worthy opponent for your protagonist
- Your readers enjoy every scene where your villain makes an appearance
- Your villain is not a fool but a clever character that earns respect from your readers
- Your villain should have sporadic, surprising moments of genuine kindness
- Your villain will stop at nothing to get what s/he wants, pushing your protagonist to act
- Your villain is jealous of your protagonist for some reason, whether hidden or blatant
- Your villain is persuasive, proud, deceitful and vengeful
Am I missing something? What questions do you ask when crafting your story’s villain? How do you create a worthy villain in your writing? Share your secrets in the comments section below.