Lots of writing references out on the internet say crafting a villain should be fun. It’s the time when we can let our most devious thoughts loose through our characters without any personal real-life repercussions. It’s like Vegas, right? What happens in a book stays in a book.
But, once you get through the first couple of writing projects, that evil-for-the-sake of it villain, a-la Richard III style, tends to get a bit old. It feels like it’s time to branch out and craft a villain with the same amount of depth as your hero.
But villainy is tough. Especially if you tend to shy away from this sort of thing. Getting out of your comfort zone and into the mind of your bad guy is difficult and a little bit daunting. Here are some ideas and questions to consider to help you get a little more comfortable, enrich your fiction and get started crafting your perfect villain.
- Spend time with your villain. He or she is a complex human just like your hero/heroine. There are things that make him/her happy and sad. He or she likely has fears and dreams (beyond world domination) of his or her own.
- What is your villain’s motivation? This is the driving force behind their villainy. If you’re having trouble finding motivation for your bad guy, then go back to #1. You can surely connect some dots and find some gold there.
- What does your villain look like? In the Victorian era, villains were ugly. Their inner ugliness was reflected in their outer visage. As you get more modern, this trope tends to die out, though not in all cases, and villains get more complicated. Their villainy is encased in attractive forms. Does their look hamper or hinder their MO?
- What are your villains inner struggles? What are they insecure about? Did they lose a parent at a young age? Were they taunted? What events played into making them the person they are today? Back story is important for the bad guys too.
- What are their principles? Even villains have principles.
- Consider any redeeming qualities. Does your villain have any positive qualities? Will these help or hinder their cause?
- Who/what does he/she care about? Surely there are people who are meaningful to him or her.
- What does success of the villain’s mission mean for him or her? For the country/world?
- What does your villain lack that he or she wants? A skill, an object? What purpose would this thing serve and how would it make a difference for them?
- Is your villain doing what he/she thinks is right? Maybe they are so focused on where they are going that they aren’t aware of how their actions and choices are affecting those around them.
Crafting an engaging villain is tough. I’m still learning how to do this the right way and how to craft the best bad guy I can. As in all things, consider your genre. For YA, it makes more sense that a villain is just plain bad and has few, if any, redeeming qualities. They tend to be bad just because. But, in other genres, it’s possible for your villain to be more complex and intricately faceted, just like your other characters.
What are your tactics for creating the perfect villain? Please feel free to share your ideas in the comments!