Love and hate are divided by the thinnest line. Perhaps that is why we can love to hate and hate to love the great villains of our favorite stories. So many narcissistic, evil or twisted men and women have drawn us into their snare, only to leave us with that deep appreciation for the well-portrayed villainy. They are what make us cheer for the heroine and fear for the hero’s life. A good villain is essential.
Recently Jei and I were faced with our own folly in regards to our own villainous characters. As the discussion continued, we began to outline what makes a great adversary. These are the pieces of the puzzle we have surmised make a villain come to life.
Emotional Depth & Mental Status – Understanding the emotional landscape of your villain is incredibly important due to the way that emotions can affect their actions. Knowing if the nemesis of your hero would respond to certain emotional triggers or traumatic events helps give them depth. On the flip side, the mental status of a villain is also key. The capacity to react in certain regards depending on their mental status also makes the villain come to life. Delving into the mental and emotional side of your villain will help you portray them in a way that is relatable to the readers.
Moral Code & Societal Interaction – People are raised to adopt certain morals per their childhood. This is no different for those that oppose the protagonist in a story. They have developed, albeit usually a twisted one, a set of morals. Alongside this set of principles, you must understand and outline how they oppose or interact with the society around them. The direct relation between the world around them and their place gives them the adversarial feeling that is needed to create a proper villain. Both moral code and social interaction are building blocks to the creation of a villain.
Limitations & Power Scale – Setting limitations or scaling a villain may not seem that important, but as we found out, it can make or break the flow of a story. Understanding the balance of power should go hand in hand with the creation of your protagonist’s potential. The sweet spot you are looking for is where the hero is challenged by their nemesis but not so overwhelmed that it seems hopeless or not so underwhelming that it seems as if the villain poses little to no threat. Villains should also have limitations and faults that make them believable to the audience. With both their limitations and a well-plotted power scale, a villain can interact with the hero properly.
Motivation & End Goal – The biggest reason why villains are considered evil or opposition to the protagonist is because their end goal is perpendicular to the hero’s path. Along with their end goal, their motivation and actions behind said motivation are usually what stand between the hero and championing over the hardships before him. Having an in-depth comprehension of the villain’s motivation and overall end goal is the cornerstone of conflict between both antagonist and protagonist.
All of the above factors can be found through exploring the origins of your character and laying out the path that your villain took to get to the place he is now. Without the organic growth from start to finish, your adversaries have a chance to fall flat or seem too contrived. So our advice, after falling flat on our own villains in the past, is to be sure to put as much effort into your villain’s build as you do your protagonist’s build.
How do you create your villains? What kind of tips and tricks have you found that helps you bring your villains to life?