This writing craft series will focus on tips for making readers love the villain and remember the side characters.
What is a villain?
“A cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness and crime; a scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot.“Random House Dictionary
“Villain” is a simplified term. These tips apply not only to writing villains, but to developing antagonists, oppositional characters, and those characters whose purpose is to act as a stumbling block or interference. For simplicity, I will use the term villain.
These types of characters are important because they often set the tone of the conflict and influence how and why the hero or protagonist is struggling.
Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a great triumph.Roger Ebert
Basic Traits of Villains
Villains have a negative effect on other characters. The type of negative effect can be wide ranging depending on the type of story. He or she might cause emotional, physical, or mental damage, act as a hindrance to the hero’s goals, actively work against the hero’s mission, etc.
The villain provides conflict for the hero through his or her negative influence or impact. Whatever actions a villain takes should have a purpose directed toward making the hero’s goals more difficult to achieve. These can be very subtle actions or direct and apparent actions.
A villain most often “mirrors” or “contrasts” the hero by exhibiting characteristics which oppose the hero’s desirable characteristics. This shines a light on the development of the hero and provides an example of what the hero may become should he or she not fulfill their goals.
A villain’s motives for doing wrong must be GOOD motives. Being evil or evil’s sake is not a good motive. Every villain must have good reason for thwarting the hero, even if he or she doesn’t fully understand those reasons. The villain may believe he or she is right in what they are doing, may despise the hero and actively wish to harm them, etc. Developing a good reason for a villain’s behavior stems from a great backstory.
“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil… Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus of what they know in life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.“Ben Bova
Next week we’ll dive deeper into what characteristics are important in developing a villain!