Villains: Embrace Writing Badly

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Q: What career, besides politics, gives you complete authority to treat others badly? A: Fiction Writing! Crafting villains is your opportunity to explore diabolical tendencies in the comfort of your own home, and quite possibly, while still in your pajamas. 

First, Nail the Why

Your villain, aka the antagonist, can’t exist without a reason. Crafting an amazing backstory will not only bring empathy from your readers but will add rich layering to your story. You want people to say things like, Oh, that villain. She was so awful! But, the poor thing, she couldn’t help herself. Her childhood was so terrible …

When my daughter was little, she asked why Darth Vader was so mean. We told her it was because he didn’t have enough hugs when he was little, and most of the time, that’s why people are bad. In her four-year-old mind, this made perfect sense. People need hugs, especially when they’re young. Therefore, when you’re planning a baddie, think of all the comforts and support a human being needs to be successful, then remove those ideals. Now, does that individual literally have an ax to grind? You bet they do and they’re sharpening it for your protagonist.

Heroes vs. Villains

A strong story has balance–yin and yang, light and dark. Look at Harry P and Voldemort. Harry had friends, Voldy didn’t. Potter had love, He-Who-Should-Not-Be-Named was surrounded by sycophants, bent on benefiting from the Dark Lord’s power. H and V were perfectly crafted opposites on the spectrum of morality and ideals.

Therefore, when you write a villain, riff off of your protagonist. By deciphering what makes your hero so good and idealistically wonderful, you can create an Evil Twin that’ll serve as the darkness to your light. 

Crumbs of Redemption

However, consider leaving the door to the moral high ground open just a teensy bit. Everyone loves an underdog. Therefore, if you give your readers a taste of goodness in your villain, it builds a tiny bridge, a reason to root for the villain in spite of all the heinous acts they’ve committed. 

Our world is not black and white. Every war has people on both sides trying to survive. Think of your villain in these terms. They’re just trying to get by, they may kick puppies as they go about their day, but they, like you, have hopes and dreams. So, build in a little goodness, if only to amplify the bad. 

Do your Evil Homework

Research makes or breaks a good story. Without it, you risk shattering the fantasy world you’ve created. Therefore, do your do-diligence and speak with authority on all the awful acts you’re villain will commit. If they’re a cybercriminal, find and talk to an auditor–an expert in risk management in the cyber world. If they like to blow things up, make sure you’re up on your chemistry. Although, I’m sure there are special people out there who monitor searches on weapons and explosives. Do you think they see that we’re writers and then move on? Gods, I hope so. 

Speaking of villainous homework, check out this site on personality disorders. As a writer of evil peeps, I found this fascinating. Not everyone shares the same reality and that makes for an interesting and fun narrative. Maybe your villain was raised by two loving parents, maybe they had a pony, and ate ice cream on their birthdays–but were born a sociopath. 

Sometimes, the best fiction villains don’t go around robbing banks. Sometimes, they live right next door, drive an SUV, and are on the PTA–but they have secrets, diabolical secrets beyond their control …

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About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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