How do you create a great bad guy?

VilliancThere’s no drama without conflict – and there’s no conflict like a good, ongoing battle between hero and villain (or, in the case of my next novel, heroine and villain).

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I’m giving my villain a Point of View, so I need to get to know him as well as I know my heroine. Here are a few things to consider:

  1. What has shaped him? Was he bullied as a child? Ignored? Abused? Does he have low self esteem that has to be bolstered through finding power over others?
  2. What is his goal? Does he desire wealth? Status? Recognition? Respect?
  3. Is he a rounded character? Very few people are either all good or all bad – so what are his strong points? Can he be charming? Does he really love someone – more than he loves himself? Can he show kindness?
  4. Am I showing his good side? It’s important that my readers understand him and don’t feel he’s one-dimensional BUT … oooh! He could be evil and ENJOY being evil!
  5. Is he as strong as my heroine? He has to be as accomplished, as clever, as interesting as she is – in other words, he has to be a worthy opponent and she’ll have to think long and hard about how to get the better of him (if she can!
  6. How does he justify his actions? Many villains believe they are the real heroes, that they are boxed into a corner because of x, y or z; that they ‘had no choice’ when doing something wrong; that the end they believe in justifies the means they employ to get there.

There are many really interesting blogs and articles out there on villains – clearly, they fascinate people. One post made the point that villains cause heroes to question their own goals and motivations, even force them to behave a little badly themselves in order to achieve their (morally justified) ends. ‘Villainy leaves a stain,’ says Melinda Salisbury https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/writers/advice/876/dedicated-genre-advice/writing-ya/ .

Another writer,Jerry Jenkins, advises, ‘Tap into your dark side long enough to know what makes a good villain tick.’  https://www.jerryjenkins.com/makes-great-villain-checklist-writing-good-bad-guy/  For example, take a look at the bit you always try to pretend isn’t there (that little lie about being ill so you didn’t have to go to work, the phone call you ignored from a difficult friend because you couldn’t be bothered listening to her problems; the antisocial behaviour you didn’t report because it was just going to take too much time or effort.

Villains should have an element of tragedy about them, says John LaFolette https://www.theodysseyonline.com/what-makes-good-villain. They’re simply fallible human beings.

My villain is certainly fallible – but then, so is my heroine. I going to have to make sure my reader knows which is which!

 

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9 thoughts on “How do you create a great bad guy?

  1. I quite like villains who come on stage in the guise of friends, then I reveal them as not all they seem. I feel it adds the layer of their villainy coming from an unexpected direction. But when I write an antagonist who’s obviously ‘a baddie’ from the start I generally give them dandruff. I apologise to all dandruff sufferers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this piece! Some great tips. Will keep them in mind. The point that says, “Am I showing his good side?”, do you mean that you should show the villain’s good side or that you shouldn’t paint the villain too nicely, otherwise the readers won’t see the antagonist as a villain? (Perhaps they may sympathise with the villain too much and even hate the hero/heroine in the process?)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I meant you should show the villain as a fully rounded person – that means showing his good side as well as his bad. Of course, the reader must know he’s the villain (and fear or dislike him because of his dark side), but if he has some good features as well as awful ones, you can make the story deeper and more satisfying, I think. If you tip it too far, your hero/heroine may suffer, I agree – but that’s where the skill comes in. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, okay. That makes sense. Yeah. Making the villain too evil may be sort of “unrealistic” and may create a villain that’s too simplistic. But adding in too much goodness would take away from the “villainness”. So I guess you gotta keep it grey, but tip it towards the dark side so there is a bit of resentment in the reader towards the character. And yeah, adding tragedy adds complexity and makes the character more rounded, as you mention.

        Thanks for the advice, Jenny! Appreciate it. All the best with your new novel!

        Liked by 1 person

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