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Creating the Perfect Villain

Here at The Writers’ Academy, we believe the thing that makes writing so unique is the fact that the rules and structure used are determined solely by the writer. Therefore, creating any character in a book – whether villain or hero – based on a formulaic set of characteristics is a fundamentally flawed strategy. However, we all need to start somewhere, so here are a few points to consider when you’re devising the bad guys in your stories.

The best villain in any story will be the one who the reader remembers most vividly. To be an entertaining villain, it is not enough for a character to be ‘bad’;  the more dimensions a writer can craft into a villain’s personality, the better.  It is important not to be left with a two-sided argument of good versus evil. Instead, the development of the argument must move forward with ebbs and flows, nuances and crossovers, which make the story more interesting to read as a whole.

Choose a villain that interests you personally. This will encourage you to find out more about them, as well as make you constructively picky about the finished product.  In her article ‘How To Choose Your Villain’, author Laura Powell explains how she came to write a two-book series about witches, despite feeling they had been ‘done to death’ in literature. By researching thoroughly and then rethinking their traditional image, she was able to craft two bestsellers about witches despite their apparent clichéd nature.

Be sure to commit to your villain.  On the spectrum of hero-antihero, don’t keep too close to the middle. However, in the same way, it is important not to try to cement the alignment of characters either. Keep the villain’s behaviour varied in the same way that a hero may possess some dark characteristics. In reality, the mind is complex and nothing is black and white – and so should it be in literature.

Building on the idea of making your villain believable, decide on a background and an appearance for them and make sure to flesh these out substantially.  This is all part of convincing yourself of the reality of the villain as much as your reader; writing about someone you know well can be much easier and more convincing than writing about someone you walked briefly past in the street.

Give your villain a motive.  Providing insights into a villain’s motive can allow readers to relate to – and even sympathise with – the villain, inviting emotional involvement in the story.  A motiveless villain who appears in a book purely for the sake of it may grow tiresome by the final pages, and fails to drive the plot forward in any way.  The inspiration for villainy is just as important as that for good.

A villain with allies or henchmen can give them power, making a hero seem increasingly helpless in the face of evil.  When faced with a villainous mastermind wielding immense power, the strategy required for the hero to be victorious is likely to need a more complex and interesting approach – for example, the increased mental capacity of Sherlock Holmes quickly allows him to unravel the cunning of his opposition, while the reader remains baffled and in awe until the very end.

Finally, craft a villain that you’re proud of.  If you were to come across your villain when you read any book, would you find that villain boring, unconvincing, lacking in depth or impact?  Ask yourself these questions whenever you encounter the villain in your story, and strive to improve their character again and again until you are left with the finished product.

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