Darth Vader, Smaug, Lord Voldermort, Lady Macbeth. Villains are delightfully disgusting and so much fun to craft. Follow these tips to make your villain so memorable they end up with their own fanbase!
What’s your motivation for crafting a villain?
Stop me if you’ve heard this writing adage:
______ is a ______ who wants ______ but ______ gets in the way.
So the saying goes, if you fill in all the blanks, you have the purpose of your story. However, this post is all about the getting-in-the-way part–the villain.
Your antagonist needs to get in the way time and time again. They will help you torture your darlings because they will literally be pressing their foot down on your hero’s throat. Therefore, your motivation for crafting a villain lies in the needs and desires of your hero. Whatever your protagonist wants, your villain won’t let them have it. It’s your job as a writer to thwart, foil, and double-cross whenever and wherever you can.
Did you give your villain justifiable motivation? It’s all in the backstory.
Ask yourself, why can’t this villain just let the hero have what they want? Why are they so evil? So mean? So vile? And, does your villain truly think these things about themselves?
Your villain will be much more effective if you craft them to believe that they are the heroes of their own story. Therefore, how did they become an antagonist to your protagonist? What twisted story led them to where they are now?
Write this story down or make notes about it somewhere, then, slowly over time, leak the information out to your readers. Don’t overwhelm people with everything all at once. Say it with me, I will not info-dump. Allow readers to despise the villain, but in your own sweet time, give your audience breadcrumbs that might make them question their own hatred of your nasty little baddie.
Show your villain love and the world will love (or hate) them right along with you.
When you start manufacturing evil incarnate, make sure you show this baddie some love. No one else has done this, but, as their unofficial parent, you should show them some affection in order to give them layers. So what little quirks or intricacies does your dark little baby have that no one else does? Give them something you find endearing–maybe a teddy bear they talk to after they kill someone, or perhaps they have a penchant for a favorite lipstick that matches your own. All these little details will add up to a multi-dimensional being that you release on the world to create chaos and destruction. Awwww. How cute is that?
For added dimension give your baddie their own moral code.
Working with constrictions always creates interesting boundaries that can be used later to add tension and depth to your writing.
For example, your villain kills people, but not women or children. In the real world, the one we all live in, no one should be killing anyone. Yet, in this world, the antagonist has decided that innocence can only be found in both women and children–not men. It doesn’t have to make sense to us, the readers, but it does have to make sense to them.
Now, if your villain has a line they won’t cross, what happens when your protagonist crosses it? Or better yet, what happens when your hero forces the miscreant to cross their own line?
Best of luck with crafting your villain. Remember to enjoy the process and, for the love of Dolores Umbridge stay away from clichés. I mean, really, I wear black most of the time and I’m not a villain. At least, I don’t think I am …