How to Create A Villain

1.7K 61 30

Villainy is an art form many appreciate without realizing it. Villains are the night to the day; they are as essential to a good story as their counterparts, protagonists. Without conflict from the antagonist, a hero cannot become what a hero is. Most importantly, good villains are not always as obvious as the heroes they rival. It can be a dance of mystery and a rush of adrenaline to find the face of the villain. And here is an added thought for your brain cloud: every character can be either a hero OR a villian...or BOTH.  What the character is to the audience depends upon which character the author decides to champion as well as what that character is trying to achieve. In other words, the audience is manipulated into hating the villain and cheering on the hero.  For feeling a little love and hate for both.

Yes, if you are a writer or a director, that means you are manipulative.  (Heheh.) I totally just got away with saying that without being derogatory! What? It's a good quality for story-telling!

Movie and comic book villains are one thing because you see their menacing qualities personally; it is another thing to create a villain with words alone. But the history behind the creation of a villain is always the same: 1.) The villain traditionally embraces a Taboo, and 2.) The villain often-- but not always-- hides in plain sight, or he looms over the story until the confrontation...and sometimes even after. Both of these qualities are very important. The subtleties are what create the character's most extravagant depths. Quirks of expressions, emotional tendencies, verbal decisions. Some are smooth-talkers, others are vulgar and belligerent. The choice is yours. Create a list to choose from for each of those three trait categories. Don't forget to make them extra spicy by seasoning them with the looks! That is quite the appetizer when you're reading or watching something! One glimpse that can make the audience crave more is what you are aiming for!  Crave more could mean uglier in the sense of a villain.  But not always...Is it hot in here?  Haha.

The qualities of a villain you can never lay eyes upon are in the details written on the page, and sometimes, the written villain is more ensnaring, more malevolent, or more deceiving.  Or you think yours is so much of all of those but you're actually completely wrong and it turns out he was a whiny sissy the whole time.  (Face-palm!  I've done it.)

Making a good villain is not always all about how evil he is, or even his looks, although those are very important details. Often, the best villains are those you can relate to. They have an opinion, and a reason for that opinion. They act as they do because they must, or because they have not found another way. Quite often, a villain begins as a friend or someone trusted.

For example: A mad scientist's experiments on humans creates a disease that is turning people into zombies, and as his experiments progress, the virus kills uninfected people and mutates the walking dead, creating super zombies that can't be killed with a bullet to the head. Yikes. Okay, so the whole world-- what is left of it-- hates him and wants him dead. And, let's say he makes a lot of these zombies his slaves, implanting brain chips so that he can control them.

That's the idea stage, which is Stage One. He sounds like a very, very, very bad guy. Intelligent, a tad bit mad, and quite power-hungry. Those are villain qualities, right? Right. Now that the core has been put to the mat, let's give some layers and make him 3-D.

Stage Two involves categorizing his personality: some villains are crazy (obsession or mental disorder), some are angry and delivering retribution (these are wrathful), and some believe they are doing what is right (these are the self-righteous). Let's play with this and say he is the third option.

Stage Three is where you get to decide Why. It is basically a history, a back story. Remember some Basic Character Psychology One-O-One: no one does what they do without a reason, even if that reason seems stupid. real life maybe they do, but not in good writing.  For this mad scientist, you can offer up many reasons. One easy answer to his Why would be that he is trying to create a cure for cancer-- and he is determined because his wife is dying of cancer. Perhaps he has succeeded on one case, but every case thereafter is mutating, causing other strange phenomenon that he doesn't quite give a poop about-- villain quality, not caring for others. Having cured one person, he would be driven to identify what the serum did that he gave the subject he cured; he would want to isolate that person and continue more controlled experiments on both them and other subjects. His reasons are good. He might even have allies at this stage: he has all the funding he needs, and he is making progress, working with a team of scientists.

Stage Four is destruction mode, which is always my favorite part: Rip everything away from him and turn his world upside-down. Suddenly the cure he is trying to recreate mutates, and it begins to kill and zombify people. His funding is yanked, his wife dies, now his three-year old son has cancer, and he is fired. But he still has access to medical equipment online. In this stage, the villain is emerging, determined to overthrow opposition and not caring for consequences. In a controlled setting where the company allows human experimentation for those who agree to put themselves at risk, it isn't quite a Taboo...? The Bigger Taboo is doing it outside of authorization and with a personal agenda. It is making a choice to embrace what is wrong in that particular world. This is where he decides to become a villain, continuing his course no matter the consequences. Perhaps he lures and kidnaps his victims; either way, he gets test subjects, and his bad choices multiply. Now the number of zombies are increasing.

As for creating a use for the brainchips, throw something in the blender: maybe his son is bitten by a zombie and is in the process of becoming one. The mad scientist refuses to see his son die or become a zombie, thus: Experiment Change. He realizes there is a way to bring humanity back to his zombified subjects, and he is willing to do so to try to save his son.

Every step of the way, he becomes more and more evil, choosing to do things that are against nature, against morals, against the laws set for a reason. His conscience is murdered by his determination.

Muhahaha! You have a villain. Now, when you insert the villain in the story, it is often best to begin revealing the villain at his worst, displaying his remote-controlled superzombie army, his mutated, walking-dead son, all the juicy stuff that would creep others out. The hero is the one you then concentrate on, as the hero is who the story is about. The hero challenges the villain and usually brings him down by stopping him in one of many ways: arresting him, killing him, setting him on the right path and having him atone for his sins, et cetera. (Usually the villain dies or worse, but if it is your story, then it is your choice!)

Remember, though, some people are rotten from birth, and you can always go with that instead.

Now go forth and create your villainy, my young (or old) mad writers, MU-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!!

Writing TipsWhere stories live. Discover now