It can be very tempting to take the easy way out when it comes to creating, developing, and wrapping up a villain’s character arc by deeming them “evil” and going no further.
A villain’s motives are one of the character aspects that can easily be neglected without even realizing it. When creating a villain, he or she must be motivated to do something that will make the hero’s journey more difficult. These motives have to be believable and realistic, though. They have to be TRUE motives in order to be believable.
Mental illness is not a villainous motive, though it can be part of the villain’s overall character profile and influence his or her motives.
Motives also need to make sense. If villain’s goal has to be met simply because it “HAS” to be met in the story, that is an Author-Created motive or will not create as strong of an interest with readers as a motive which comes from deep within the villain’s personality and backstory.
An example of an author-creative motive that doesn’t make sense and irritates readers/viewers is from the film “Hocus Pocus” when the witches have a whole group of children hypnotized and arriving at their home to be drained of life, yet the witch Winifred insists they put off their ultimate goal of endless youth to hunt down the trio of main characters who escaped their clutches, which of course leads to their ultimate downfall. Logically, the witches should have sacrificed the children in their possession, assured their youth and power, and then went after the characters who escaped.
Having characters demonstrate a few stereotypically “evil” characteristics or acts with no substantive backing falls flat with readers. True “evil” is complicated and complex and is built off villains who are equally complex.
How Do You Create a Complex Villain?
Start with these 5 questions…
- What is the villain’s motivation to reach their goal?
- How will they determine success?
- What can the villain NOT lose?
- Why does the villain fight the hero?
- What will the world be like if the villain “wins”?
Answering these questions will help you dig deeper into why a villain does what he does, wants what she wants, and believes what he believes.
One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.Charles M. Blow, journalist
When developing villains, strive to make villains human, but a human who has been twisted and warped into doing and believing despicable or immoral things.