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How to Craft a Memorable Villain

How to Craft a Memorable Villain

The good guys get all the attention. You spend pages developing your hero’s back story and personality but fail to give the ol’ bad guy the same love. What’s a good story without a kick-ass villain? A shallow one.

From Dracula to Hannibal Lecter and a legion of others, villains are iconic. Here’s how to end favoritism and craft a juicy villain of substance: one readers can sink their teeth into.

Step #1: Relate to Your Villain and Their Cause

Readers want believable characters across the genre rainbow, not caricatures. A tasty villain has depth and inner complexities. Ask yourself what the character’s end goal for their wrongdoing. Sure, world domination is great, but what’s their reason for pursuing it?

Pop-off-the-page villains trigger readers’ emotions. You empathize with them like Frankenstein’s monster. Poor guy, he only wanted company. Even the most deviant have vulnerabilities.

Try giving your villain an origin story. What early trauma or life-changing event sets them in motion? This applies to non-human characters as well. Napoleon, the dastardly of all porkers from George Orwell’s Animal Farm, was based on Joseph Stalin. Flesh out what makes your character’s vile mind tick.  

Dive into the villain’s headspace to figure out why they’re hell-bent on wreaking havoc. Embrace your dark side. If you don’t understand the corrupted, put yourself in their place. Ramsey Bolton you are not, but you have your moments. You tame the inner monster to live in society. Your villain chooses not to.

Step #2: Put Some Respect on My Name

Give your leading character a good fight! Exciting villains test your hero’s physical condition, resiliency, or intelligence. These challenges push the protagonist to grow and creates tension within the narrative.

For example, you can count on the Joker to be a major pain in Batman’s rear, and Harry had to deal with Lord Voldemort and his underlings for seven books. Unforgettable villains are forces to be reckoned with. To create a formidable foe, picture your villain as the hero of their own story. 

Establish a connection to the protagonist or create a similar origin story. Another option is a villain that embodies the hero’s opposite qualities. Raw strength poses deathly threat against your leading character’s high-intelligence. Perhaps your charismatic villain contrasts to your socially inept heroine who struggles to convert people to her cause.  

Step #3: Utilize Villain Inspiration Prompts

Create scenes where readers can gather info about this character. Include moments exploring the villain’s murky past, consequences of their actions, or how others react to them. Need a spark to ignite your imagination? Here’s an idea list to help you build characterization scenes.

  • The protagonist and villain meet for the first time.
  • The protagonist learns about the villain’s past.
  • The villain shatters the hero’s confidence.
  • The protagonist must deal with the aftermath of the villain’s crimes against others.
  • The protagonist watches the villain from a distance.
  • The hero hears others’ opinion about the villain.
  • The protagonist meets someone who respects, loves, or sympathizes with the villain.
  • The villain and protagonist experience a conflict that results in a tie between the two.

Constructing a compelling villain take effort. Use these simple but effective tips for developing a dynamic character. Craft a complex villain worthy of your readers’ time and your bad guy might just leap off the page and strike a movie deal.

Meet Nikkia

Nikkia Nealey is a certified educator and freelance writer specializing in e-commerce.