We’ve discussed developing main characters and how to give them depth, but how do you create the perfect villain? This blog post will focus solely on the use of villains as antagonists to create mood, tones, and tension within your story.
Copyright and credit for the image goes to Warner Bros, Legendary Entertainment, Syncopy, and DC Comics for producing the film Batman: The Dark Knight (2008).
Villains and other antagonists are everything to a story, even if they don’t play a major role in the story itself. With some villains, it’s easy to see how they were developed, like The Joker (pictured above), Sauron, and Voldemort, but in other stories it isn’t so clear. Take ‘Me Before You’, for example, who’s the villain in that? Sure, we have the horrible unsympathetic boyfriend, Patrick, but he doesn’t really hinder the story in any way. The real villain in this story is the paralysation Will experiences and the knowledge that there isn’t going to be a happy ending for him. This villain was a disability and a concept, rather than a person.
Identify your Antagonist
The first step to building a villain is to identify who/what they are. This is easier if you already have a plot, but even if you don't, your plot could come from developing this character. And, as mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be a physical person, it can be a situation, object, or an ideal that is crushing society. Take zombie novels, the zombies aren’t the villain, the virus is, right? So, make sure you know exactly what/who you’re dealing with before going any further.
Maybe it’s a virus, disability, an old acquaintance, an evil god or mythical being, a magical object, a societal concept, or a good guy gone rogue? It could be anything! Identify your villain.
If they are a person, or person-like figure, you’re free to develop them as usual: appearance, psychology, actions, backstory, depth etc. Just like we did with our protagonists in my previous blog posts: Character Development 101 and How To Give Your Character Depth. But, if they’re an object, disease, or other form of non-human-like creature, then maybe only some of this applies. You can definitely develop backstory, appearance, actions, and depth of “existence”, but psychology probably won’t be as important.
Here’s where you could really do with writing some info down to keep aside for later.
What are the main types of villains?
There are seven main types of villain: pure evil, who usually has little to no backstory and is just there to create an antagonist for the main character; the bully, a character whose purpose is to destroy the protagonist because they have a predetermined grudge; the mastermind who uses clever plans to defeat their enemies (they usually are doing things for a specific purpose, such as saving their side of the world); the dark villain, who is an exact opposite of the hero and they clash over everything; the mirror, someone who matches the protagonists skills and talents; opposition hero who fights for a cause that opposes the hero’s. This blog post talks more about them:
7 Types of Villains - www.jsmorin.com
What Makes a Great Villain?
This will vary depending on the genre, but the best villains are the ones that aren’t just evil for no reason. Gone are the days where pure evil battles pure good. The best villains are the ones we can analyse and relate to. Maybe what they’re doing is wrong, but we can see why they’re doing it. They tend to be morally grey, rather than pure evil. Take Darth Vader for example, throughout the original movies he was the classic pure evil type villain, until we learned his backstory in the later trilogy. Then we started understanding where things went wrong, and we started feeling empathetic towards him(kinda). This transition only happened over a single decade(ish) and we can already see the shift in what audiences/readers are looking for when it comes to villains. This storyline was most likely developed towards audiences’s tastes. And, if you want to succeed in the world of publishing, you have to consider your audience. Maybe not straight away, but at some point in the process.
The best way to show a good villain is to have them be in complete contrast to the main character/s. Show the effect they have on the world or the hurt they’re causing the main character. For example, if the Harry Potter were written from Bellatrix’s perspective, would we really view Voldemort as evil? We only see what he’s doing as evil because we’re viewing it from the perspective of the other side. Both sides kill, maim, and try to stop the other, but we see good and evil as a skewed viewpoint. If you’re using a societal concept, like depression or gender roles, then the best way to show how negative that can be is to show the effects. Show us the emotional, traumatic, hateful, and impactful effects it has on real people. This will be achieved better if you create realistic characters we can relate to. That way we’ll cry harder and hate further.
All the other points of character development apply: dialogue, appearance, psychology, personality etc… but showing a villain is tough. If you show too much you risk creating a morally grey character, but if you limit it to perspective, like our good author JK Rowling, then you get a skewed image of the villain. It’s up to you. I’ve not seen an example where someone has created a well-developed villain from a neutral perspective. This is because people are rarely solely good or evil, they are a mixture of both. This, as well as good and evil being down to the perspective of the viewer, means that villains are hard to produce. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the first?
That’s it for today everyone! This is the end of the character development blogs. Next time we’ll look into Plotting.