Making your villain less like Snidely Whiplash.

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villa...

English: A stereotypical caricature of a villain (i.e. generic melodrama villain stock character, with handlebar moustache and black top-hat). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


We all suffer from “bad-characters-disease” from time to time. There is no way around it but being consistently focussed on bringing the best out in yourself. I have a few rules I use myself to craft characters I consider interesting. From time to time I have to force myself to look back at these rules and  discover new ones. My biggest love in writing would be a good villain. You need a villain you can enjoy reading and hating. This is an incredibly thin line and I find myself dangling in one side or the other. In the title I used Snidely Whiplash to establish what I consider a horrible villain. Whiplash is, of course, a cartoon character and therefore an exaggerated version of a villain. Here’s how I avoid making my villain less like a cartoon character.

1. Give him a goal to achieve.

In fact do this with every character. Just remember not to forget your antagonist. Make him goal-driven and very passionate about a certain thing. This will help drive the story forward, especially if his goal is in direct competition with the hero’s goal.

2. Make him relevant to the hero.

Frodo didn’t leave the Shire until he realized even that place of beauty was at risk. Harry Potter would’ve never defeated Voldemort if his parents weren’t killed by him. Heroes aren’t always knights in shining armour waiting to right every wrong in the world. They aren’t caped crusaders seeking justice for all. If you put the villain between the hero and what he wants he will be relevant. The hero’s journey learned us that he is going to suffer, give him a reason the suffering is worth it.

3. Size and Power.

Not every bad guy is Sauron and not every bad guy is Gollum. There are a vast range of villains. They come in all sizes and shapes and sometimes they might seem not at all evil. This is absolutely okay. Avoid going back to the same tropes.

4. Your villain is a hero. Your hero isn’t always right.

If your villain doesn’t suffer from madness they are not going to want to have others suffer. They will seek out a way to improve the world. The best example is Ozzymindias in Watchmen. He kills millions and saves billions. He establishes a world without war and in the end most of the heroes, save for the morally uncompromising Rorschach, they accept defeat and go back to their lives in a better world.  As Chuck Wendig says in his article “25 Things You should Know About Antagonists: The Antagonist thinks he’s the protagonist.

5. Give him a good side.

Most villains don’t hang around their lair plotting new ways to defeat the hero. They have a life beyond being evil. They have wants and wishes and things they care about. Show these things. Make them relevant to the story and show the reader that our villain is not just a villain but a human being.

6. Give him a challenge.

Making heroes and villains equals will give the villain a reason to care about the hero and will give the hero a fighting chance. They can be equals in different ways. While the villain might hold massive amounts of power, the hero holds information the villain doesn’t have. Give them an edge over one another.



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~ by Sander on August 25, 2012.

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