Character Profiles: The Villain

September 17, 2009 at 9:33 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Sugar, spice and nothing nice… A key ingredient to cooking up a delicious book is getting the villain right. You don’t want to over do it, but you don’t want to downplay it, either. It takes more than just adding some undesirable traits to the mixing bowl.

Tell me what’s wrong with this scene.

Hero: (draws out shiny sword) Stop you villainous fiend! I have come to stop your nefarious plan.

Villain: (cackles evilly) You are too late! This time tomorrow I will have removed every Starbucks shop from the face of the earth! (more evil laughter)

Hero: (gasps) You fiend! But why have you done such a treacherous deed?

Villain: (shrugs) Erm, because I felt like that. And I am, like, bad.

Hero: (knits brows in confusion) You felt like it?

Villain: That’s what I said. Jeez, are you deaf or something?

Hero: That has to be the stupidest reason ever. What has Starbucks ever done to you?

Villain: I can’t afford the coffee! And if I can’t have it, then no one can.

(Hero runs towards villain, shoving the sword deep into his heart)

Villain: No! I am melting!

Hero: Dude, I stabbed you with a sword.

The answer: everything.

Before writing about your villain, you have to first understand him or her inside and out. One of the best ways to develop your character is through the 100 Questions for Characters. It is important you make your villain three dimensional. Having a psychotic menacing brute that chases your characters with a chainsaw just doesn’t cut it. You have to ask why the villain is a villain. Then you can start adding several different layers to him, just like a tiramisu. Other than the obvious villainous traits, add in some pleasant qualities that make your villain better rounded.

Let’s take the Hannibal Lector as an example. He likes to eat people (each to their own) but he is also a well educated man who is witty and a great cook (even if you are on the menu). Rightly so, he is one of the best villains ever to hit the big screens. Work on your villain and expand his personality. You want the character to jump out of the page and hook the reader!

What is so unique about your villain? What is it about him that would probably make little old Amna turn on her night light? Creating a villain is certainly fun. A lot of fun. Some may argue it maybe even more fun than creating the hero. You get to delve into the darker side to humanity, taking your reader on a very scary ride. There is no specific ingredient list on how to make a perfect villain. Don’t be disheartened – this is actually a good thing. It makes writing about the villain devilishly fun because you a make him however you want him to be. No detail is too small. Focus on mannerism, quirks, likes, dislikes and what makes your villain inherently evil.

Most important thing to focus on is what crime your villain commits. Is he an arsonist? A rapist? A serial killer? All the above? Once you have chosen on the villain’s criminal behaviour, you need to focus on his history on it. When did he first commit the crime? How many times has he committed that crime? You have to choose a level of evilness. Is your villain Sharpay from High School Musical or Voldemort (yeah, I said his name) from Harry Potter? Let’s say I have a villain called Norbit (yes, Norbit). He is a serial killer. How does he kill his victims? He may like watching his victims burn. Alive.

What made your villain bent on destruction? The easiest way to answer this is focus on one, or several events, that has hardened the villain’s heart. Is there one turning point in the villain’s life that has turned him against humanity? Let’s go back to Norbit. He likes to burn people alive. Not just for the fun of it – you see, Norbit has mummy issues. As a child he watched his father set his house ablaze , and his mother burned inside. So he now kidnaps other mothers who remind him of his mother and burns them. Alive.

Now focus on the relationship between the villain and the hero. How does the hero fit into the story? What is similar and different between the hero and the villain? Most of the time, the villain has his own goals which the hero ruins. For example, most villains in James Bond want to take over the world, or get their hands on super secret government data. Then James Bond swoops in and foils their plan. Don’t make the mistake of creating villain that is only there to be the hero’s arch nemesis. Why? Because that is boring.

Now run, my children! Unleash hell on your novels.

By the way – who is your favourite villain? I heart Sylar from Heroes.

~ Amna/Geekpride



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  1. I actually feel bad for my antagonist. My story is about a famous house breaker and a girl who becomes a pick pocket. So, they spend much time in conflict with the Chief of Police, who is, generally speaking, a good guy. Not very villainous, I guess.

  2. I just about woke the office up with my giggles. This is too funny, but very, very informative. Are you a fan of Criminal Minds? I could just see you hunched over and glued to the television screen with some of the villains they produce from there.

    • Guilty!

      Lol, I’m glad you got a few laughs out of this!

  3. I am having such trouble with my antagonists right now. They need better motives, I think – or they need to let me in on their real ones, because the ones they’re showing me are pathetic. XD

    And I think Dominique made a great point about villains’ evilness being based on the protagonist’s perspective. :)

    A good villain that comes to mind is the guy John Travolta played in the movie Swordfish. (I know, I know I should be able to think of someone from a book, but I haven’t been able to read anything for a long time because of that library fine and there aren’t really a lot of stellar villains in contemporary anyway, and that’s what I’d been reading mostly before the fine debacle.)

    Anyway, what I liked about him was that he honestly thought he was a good guy and at times the audience even thought maybe he was a good guy, and he was absolutely brilliant – outsmarted dear old protag Hugh Jackman, as it so happened. =D

    Come to think of it, how many bad guys actually think they’re bad guys?
    (Okay, that was really long. lol Sorry.)

    • When the good guy turns out to be bad. Oh, how I love that twist. You should have seen my face when I was watching Harry potter 6 (I haven’t read the book, *slaps hand*) and my jaw dropped when Snape did what he did. That was just brilliant.

  4. My favorite villain is Snape. If you’re wondering why, go read Deathly Hallows. *spoilers* I mean how many villains can make you go from a mild hatred through five books, a desire to strangle them in the sixth, and then still cry when they die in the seventh just before discovering that they’re not really all that bad after all?

    • This is why Rowling is a literary genuis.

      • SNAPE! How could I forget about SNAPE?!

        Sirius was a fun one in the third book too, I thought. =D

  5. Loved the villain/hero dialogue. It happens so much more often than you’d think.
    I think my favorite villains are the Joker and Scar from the Lion King. Scar because he’s one of the few Disney villains to ever succeed in his “evil scheme”, and the Joker because he’s hilarious and scary at the same time.
    Sylar has empathy, though. That’s why he’s so darn popular! And empathy is just as important for writing good villains.

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