What makes for a good villain?

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I’ve talked about villains a little in some other posts, mainly during last year’s ABC’s 123’s of Nanowrimo, but a writing friend wanted to hear some more and requested it for a blog topic. So here we are!

Firstly, how about a good ole definition.  Dictionary.com has this to say:

vil·lain

[vil-uhn]  

noun

1.a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel.
2.a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.

 

I think we probably all knew that without me posting a definition, but I wanted to put it here because while it’s true, I think when it comes to writing, this is a very loose definition of what a villain is and how they play into a plot.  I think a good villain is a character you love to hate, but I think it’s good to make them “human” as well. Readers need a back story. They want to know why the villain has it out for the main character(s). They want to know that, had circumstances had been different, maybe that villain could have been a hero or at least someone who wasn’t out for world destruction.

 

A writer needs to flesh out their villain as well as their main character. Make them seem real. Show their emotions, their hatred, their rage. Show that they have their own agenda and show why that agenda is important.  I also don’t think all villains have to be “evil”. Just because they have a different ideal of how life should be doesn’t automatically make them evil.

 

Sometimes the villain doesn’t even have to be a person/creature/etc. A very odd town that doesn’t like to let visitors leave can be the villain. A haunted house that swallows people stupid enough to enter it can be the villain.M Maybe it’s a killer liquid. The Blob! Be creative with it.

 

Think about some of your all time favorite villains and the characteristics that make them stand out to you. I’ve never been a huge fan of Disney villains because I don’t feel like we really get to know them. Okay, the evil queen doesn’t want anyone to be prettier than her, but why? Is she really just *THAT* vain? I’m not sure that’s it.  In Snow White and the Huntsman, we get a better idea why the evil queen does what she does. I would love a movie about just her and what made her the way she is. Maleficent is probably the fiercest of all the Disney villains (in my opinion anyway. I mean she turns into a fire breathing dragon!) and we  know she’s pissed she doesn’t get an invite to a baby’s christening, but really, is that cause for such actions? Not in my opinion. I want to know what makes her tick. What made her strive to be so powerful?

 

Use your favorites as inspiration and don’t be afraid to write them a back story, even if you can only work hints of it into the novel, it could make for a good short prequel at another time.  They may not be your main character, but they deserve to be fleshed out and believable.  If you tell me they just want to take over the world, I’m going to be annoyed I don’t know why.  They don’t need equal billing with your main character, but remember, without them and their actions, you’re probably going to have a pretty lackluster and uneventful story to tell.

 

Who are your favorite literary villains and why are they your favorite?

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7 responses »

    • I totally agree! Batman would be lame-sauce without villains to deal with. He’d be stuck to getting kittens out of trees and helping old ladies across the street.

  1. You have a point about the Disney villans.
    Villans are one of the reason I’ve been struggling a bit with Being Human’s sequel. Like BH, there’s not really a definite villan. It makes me wonder if I can build enough conflict. Guess we’ll see if I ever get my butt in gear.

    • Ehh with your stuff, the conflict can be adaptation and all that comes with it. There doesn’t have to be a literal villain as much. You’ll make it work :)

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