You are struggling to create a villain that grips you. A villain which you can fear and respect, a villain which embodies everything that you hate. Well, I am about to give you some tips on making a strong villain that is not only great to read, but great to write as well. I will help you take your villain from basic to legendary!
1. A Strong Set of Values
Your villain needs to have values. It is easy enough to create a monster without any human-attachments or vices, but this won’t be a villain that captures your reader. A strong villain needs to be formidable and to have that quality the villains needs values.
The values needn’t necessarily be negative either. Some strong villains have positive values, but not positive enough to redeem them of their evil. Yes, there are certainly things that damn this villain in the protagonists eyes, but by having positive values it can create a conflict of opinion in the reader's mind.
Nothing quite adds as much depth to a villain as the reader wondering if the villain is as bad as the protagonist believes. Oh yes, having your reader further ponder this will secure your villain a nice pedestal in the reader's mind as an interesting and strong villain. So be sure to remember that before you turn the villain’s heart to stone.
2. An Interesting Personality
I believe we have all read the books with bland personalities and boring dialog. The ones that make us yawn thinking about them, the books that leave us thinking, “Well, that was a waste of time.”
Not only is this advice you must remember when writing a protagonist, but the antagonist as well. A villain who is cliche or simply unoriginal will leave a bad mark on your novel. True, there are some character tropes that just work, but the villain is something that requires a lot of attention.
Too many writers happily build their protagonist, giving them all the attention and development, leaving their villain behind. Worse still, some do remember to give the villain development, but they do it late in the novel or series, making the villain feel rushed. Such poor writing leaves the villain as bland as they were at the beginning and only wastes the readers time.
Make your villain funny, terrifying, vengeful, intelligent or even idiotic. These extreme personality traits add so much character to your villain and will no doubt make their personality a memorable one.
3. Startling Intelligence
Let us linger on the thought of intelligence a moment longer. Popular villains often turn out to be villains with startling intelligence. I don’t mean that they have immense intelligence, a cruel brainiac or evil mastermind, but to have more intelligence than the reader or the protagonist expects.
A villain that is easily duped is no villain at all. Have your villain outsmart the protagonist, or see through the progranist’s cunning plan to stop them. However, this leads to a flaw in the story.
If your villain is intelligent, how do you stop them? Well, your protagonist need only best them in one way. Either the protagonist plans a step ahead of the villain or bests the villain in strength or another manner making use of the villain's Golden Flaw which we will discuss later.
However, that is dipping into plot mechanics, let us stay with the main point. Your villain doesn’t have to be predictable, they don’t have to be easily fooled. A villain that can stand on its own two feet and put up a good fight will be more enjoyable and memorable in the end.
4. Gripping Strength
If intelligence isn’t where you are leaning towards or perhaps you want the villain to be even more of a challenge, let us add some gripping strength. A villain that exerts their power, not necessarily physical power, upon their victims helps give the protagonist and the reader a good idea of the mountain that must be climbed.
A villain that is much weaker than the protagonist needs to have other strengths to make the conflict more interesting. Perhaps the villain has multiple strong allies, or bends their victims to their will. Something that will make your villain stand tall and appear terrifyingly powerful.
Of course, it comes down to deciding what strength best suits your villain, or better yet, best counters your protagonist. A villain with a strength that suits their purpose is formidable indeed, but a villain with strength that matches the protagonist makes for an interesting conflict as well.
Plot and character direction are other subjects entirely, but one thing you need to ensure is that your villain is no pushover. A villain that is weak, that doesn’t put up a fight is not an enjoyable villain. At best, they are a side character and having them as the main antagonist can easily end with a ludicrous ending.
5. Untouchable Fear
Ah, now this is something that I am sure many writers forget. Fear plays a big part in building up a villain. Whispered conversations about the villain surely will raise them up in the readers standards. An overwhelming sense of fear can wash over both the protagonist and the reader, leaving them expectant of someone or something truly terrible.
More often than not, that is exactly what the reader gets. A terrible villain. Fear mongering is a great way to build up a villain and thus the ending, however, too much bark and no bite leaves the reader with this ratty-dog of an ending.
Don’t get me wrong and think that you should exclude a sense of fear and mystery from your novel. Fear and mystery, when it comes to describing the villain, is a fantastic tool and I more than recommend it. However, it is something to be handled in moderation. Don’t lead your reader on, making them believe they are in for something special if you can’t give them something special.
Instead, give them a sense that the villain is powerful, give them a sense the villain is cold and unforgiving. Then surprise them with something greater. Something less monster and more human, something less powerful, but far more strong, if you catch my meaning. Fear can be the salt to a meal, the misdirection to the illusion. Of those two metaphors, make sure fear is the former and not the latter.
6. Have Reason Behind Purpose
By this point in your novel the villain has an end goal. Something that they want to do that the protagonist is absolutely against. Here is where you need to show your brilliance in writing. Have reason behind purpose, explain why the villain has their end goal. Often, these reasons can be powerful and even sway the reader onto the villains side.
Yes, you read that right. Empathy is a very human emotion and if your villain can win empathy from the reader, you surely have something great going. However, the real difficulty is getting that empathy from your readers.
You can do this any number of ways, but the best is to be relateable through pain. Often a great way to get the reader empathetic is to show the villain as a great person before the turn. A happy, morally good character that your reader can enjoy reading. That is when you destroy them, take away something they hold dear, give them purpose through pain.
Soon you will find your reader is becoming understanding of the villain. Even drawing comparisons between the villain and the protagonist, leaving you to wonder if the protagonist would end up the same if put through the same pain. The story writes itself.
7. A Golden Flaw
I have dubbed this part of the villain the Golden Flaw. The flaw that will be the villain's downfall, a flaw that the protagonist will use to their advantage and overcome the villain in the end. It can be absolutely anything physical if you want to make it simple, but giving them a personality trait that is their flaw works even better.
An ego, a short temper, a lack of cunning and so on. Going even further, you can give them a flaw that is actually a positive trait. Yes, a flaw can be something good about the villain. Perhaps they would never hurt a child, making their one weakness a child. Perhaps self-sacrifice for the ones they love. Even better, perhaps their downfall will be at the hands of a loved one who is against them.
The Golden Flaw is not be underestimated or forgotten. It can turn even the most dire, climactic ending around in favour of the protagonist. Whether the reader expects it or not, the flaw will make their defeat all the more powerful and enjoyable to read.
8. Admirable Loyalty or Lacking Thereof
A villain often has more than themselves on their side of the chessboard. While the protagonist has allies, so does the villain and it is the relationship between the villain and their allies that help better shape them as the antagonist.
If you are leaning more towards a cruel villain, one who only sees their end goal and not even those helping them reach it, you can have your villain sacrifice their lackeys in the end. A villain sacrificing or abusing their allies gives you a good sense of their character and it will certainly help the reader see how monstrous the villain can be.
Further discussing that point, what about a villain that is more upstanding? Yes, you can have a villain that still has morals and values that are wholly good. However, it is their means and end goal that make them the antagonist, not just the people they associate with.
As such, you can have a villain that is caring for their allies. Wanting the best for them and ever grateful for their assistance in helping the villain. Like abusing the villains allies, the villain rewarding and even cherishing them gives a great perspective on who the villain really is. Remember, nothing interests a reader more than something that isn’t cliche and a villain with some decent values will certainly surprise the reader.
9. Villainous Appearance
Now, the introduction and appearance of your villain is important. If you have been building up towards your villain with fear, developing this intricate story of the things they have done and how evil they truly are, you need to meet expectations, but also do something unexpected.
As evil as your villain may be, you can’t simply give them horns and turn them red. You need to describe them as off-putting, as cold as you said they are. To do this, give them the appearance and mannerisms that fit their story. If they are bloodthirsty, introduce them with a bloodthirsty action. If they are cold, have them kill off their weak ally.
Their most defining, villainous quality should be what you present them with. Much like you present a clumsy person to the reader by having them do something clumsy, you present your villain as a villain. Even if your villain is a surprise, an ally in disguise or someone you introduced before, once your villain is revealed to the reader truly, show the reader and the protagonists why they are the villain.
First impressions are important and showing your villain as weak from the get-go just won’t make them formidable, no matter what personality you are going for.
10. A Fitting End
Now we have reached the moment you have all been waiting for. If your villain does lose in the end, like most do, how is it a fitting end? Are they stopped or killed in the pursuit of their end goal? Does the villain die for something good, making their ending tragic, but necessary?
The ending will depend on the Golden Flaw you decided to give them. However, to give your villain a fitting end, it must be a just punishment for all they have done wrong. If they killed people, have the protagonists exact their justice on the villain. Sometimes even giving the villain a taste of their own medicine can work as well. The antagonist is meant to lose. To either give up or die for what they’re fighting for.
A fitting end for any villain is the price they must pay for all they have done. It is up to you to decide what their price is, because it depends on all they have done in your story.
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