They are some of the most hated characters in stories...and some of the most loved.
They are evil.
They are flawed.
They are plotters.
They are the villains.
|As you can see, he has all the makings of a villain.|
But what makes a good villain? Who is he? Why is he in the world? What point does he serve?
This post is all about the forces that drive stories forward. As I like to say, "If the antagonist isn't important, then the protagonist isn't, either."
Tip #1. CHOOSE THE FORM OF THE BAD GUY THAT WOULD HURT YOUR HERO THE MOST
Antagonists come in all different forms. Some are a single villain, some are a group of people, and some are abstract ideas that originate in the mind, or circumstances and obstacles the hero must endure.
Villains aren't always people. They don't have to be. An antagonist opposes the hero, so maybe the hero must fight fantastical beasts, or survive a set of physical challenges. Maybe the hero is emotionally suffering with guilt, unrequitted love, or a moral dilemma that tears him or her apart from the inside.
Presentation of the conflict is crucial.
Tip #2. MAKE THE READER CARE THAT THE VILLAIN HURTS THEIR FAVORITE CHARACTER
Readers should connect to somebody in the story. Maybe the hero, maybe the hero's best friend, or teacher, or even the villain. Whoever the reader connects to the most, make them suffer.
Take a look at the last book you read. Notice how the villain might hurt the hero, but it has an effect on everyone else, too. The hero isn't the only one who suffers. Make people care that the villain hurt someone. Maybe readers love the villain and are awed by his power and opposition.
Make that count. Drive it home using emotion. Play the heartstrings of the reader, and they'll love your characters forever.
Tip #3. MAKE THE VILLAIN MEMORABLE
He has to stick in our minds. We have to know WHY he hurts the hero, HOW he hurts him, and WHAT he expects to gain from doing so. Maybe the hero is trying to foil a master plan, so the villain needs to get rid of him in order to rule the world. Maybe the hero is trying to be elected into office, so the villain tries to prevent that from happening so a law doesn't get passed.
Anything. Make it interesting, make it exciting, and make it resonate with the overall story. When it comes to books, we remember characters who gave us butterflies, made us feel sick, or made us angry. Or we felt like they were a close friend and could relate.
If a character can achieve a physical response in our bodies, we will never forget them.
Tip #4. GIVE THE VILLAIN A BACKSTORY
Unless you are making a movie for Marvel Comics, you should know that most villains don't just pop up out of the blue. They have existed elsewhere. You can see how they have shaped the world. There are lasting effects that every character stuffs up in the back of his mind.
Voldemort didn't just come out and attack the Ministry of Magic and Hogwarts - he was a major influence in the whole wizarding community for his entire life. From the orphanage, to his years at Hogwarts, to the construction of the Horcruxes and the First War against Dumbledore and the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort had a presence the entire time, even when he wasn't physically there.
You want most villains to be like that. If nothing else, they should have some relevance to the hero's life and how the hero has shaped himself.
Tip #5. READERS LIKE LOGIC....AND SO SHOULD YOU
I have read one too many stories where a character suddenly becomes the bad guy because his friend accidentally killed another friend, or the girl he loves doesn't like him, so he turns into a supervillain with a vengeance against her boyfriend...who just so happens to be a superhero.
Come on people. Really? No, seriously, really? Was it so devastating that he just had to go off on a murderous streak?
No, and readers know this. They don't want to read some cheesy inciting incident - they want to see the villain develop, or at least understand how he developed. This builds a mutual trust between reader and author, makes characters more believable, and thus makes readers LIKE the story.
If villains like the Green Goblin, Doc Oc, Whiplash (Iron Man 2), and Sandman popped up all the time, NYC would be screwed. At least Loki had a plan. Unfortunately, it included the fatal flaw of many villains these days....
Tip #6. IF YOUR VILLAIN WAGES WAR, PLEASE, PLEASE DON'T LET THEM HAVE A "REMOTE CONTROL" ARMY
What does this mean? Let me tell you. In "The Avengers," the fatal flaw was that the whole army turned out to be robotic and by destroying the mothership, the army shut down and the six people fighting aliens miraculously won. Or like in "Battle: Los Angeles," (a movie I personally loved), the drones were powered by the control beacons and LA was saved when Harvey Dent shot a missile at the retreating mothership.
I'm just saying, while these make for cool action sequences, please try not to include that unless robots are literally taking over the world. We as readers don't like seeing something end so easily (if you've read "Inheritance," by Christopher Paolini, you'll agree that King Galbatorix TOTALLY would have won that fight instead of acting like a little girl. Shruikan didn't even try to help).
What am I trying to say? MAKE YOUR VILLAIN STRONG!!! But not invincible.
Tip #7. GIVE YOUR VILLAIN A FATAL FLAW THAT THE HERO MUST DISCOVER
Why are Voldemort's horcruxes so awesome? Because nobody knew they existed. Not even the readers, until the sixth book. Then we found out that three had already been destroyed, one of which we watched get destroyed and had no idea the significance until later.
GENIUS!!! Do that. Surprise the reader. Surprise the characters. Force them to discover the villain's weakness, or a way to fight him.
Everybody is different. Be creative! And if your antagonist is inside the hero's head, have him fight himself. Show us his torture and how he affects everything around him until he is able to reconcile with himself. Self-discovery and inner-conflicts make excellent storylines. Just be sure to wrap it up inside something else, and you're well on your way.
The villain of the story should fascinate us. Make readers fear, admire, or be shocked by him. Give readers a reason to care that the villain is hurting the hero. Give the readers a story why the villain is hurting the hero. People don't want the cheesy stuff. Show them that this guy could hurt them. Create that feeling and people will ask for the sequel.
Check out the follow-up post: How to Create a Magnificent Main Character
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