Character Creation: How to make a convincing villain

    There’s nothing more interesting than a human obstacle. It’s not like trying to jump over a hurdle, or knock down a cardboard cutout of a man, you’re trying to outwit a creature as complex a creature as you are. Humans, by nature, are competitive little bastards whenever it comes to something they care about, even a little. Ever had one of those arguments that you get the hots over, but no matter how passionately you fight your point you just can’t seem to penetrate that thick skull of theirs?

That person on the other side of the facebook debate is the kind of villain you want to make in a novel.

  1. They know their argument
  2. They’re not going to take any bologna from you
  3. They infuriate you
  4. YOU’LL NEVER WIN.

You can win a game of Othello all you want, flip all the tiles until the board’s mostly white, but you can’t win a person, at least, you don’t want the antagonist to be someone you can win against. A comedy villain is a different story, he can be Dr. Doofenshmirtz all he wants. But if you want a compelling villain you want your fans to remember, you’ve got to make him convincing. You have to make him real and more menacing that a mwahaha villain no one actually finds in real life. Make him the most charming civilian you’ve ever met. Make him the best friend that had to go to rehab all those years when you didn’t know the reason. Make her the employee everyone talks about. When they’re close to your hero, the les they’ll want to win, the more likely that winning is some far shot. There’s your tension.

That’s right, your villain also has to be up close and personal. Either have it hanging right under your hero’s nose, or put them somewhere way too close for comfort. Maybe even make us love them before we figure out the truth.

In the end, the character is up to you, and you should plan to have your villain be someone you could admire, in some awkward twisted way. Whoever your character is, they should inspire you to take the extra mile and would want you take a step further than you might think. When they finally take root in your mind, you might have some splendid villainous thoughts, and suddenly, it all comes out of you. We are not all goody two shoes. Even those people at church who smile all the time aren’t necessarily happy all the time. As much as we would like to think that we’re all pure white and sunshine, you might have to realize you’ve got dirt trailing on the hem of your wedding dress.

    Villains should come from you because villains are supposed to be people, at least, I believe it should be so. Perhaps you romance novel people would disagree, but that’s precisely why I don’t read romance. Then, there are the romances with actual people in the way, and that’s where it gets better. Especially people-pleaser heroes who’ll turn squeamish the moment they try to hurt anyone.

    The point is, you’ve got to keep reality in the picture. You don’t have to be the psychological professor who knows every psychological disease ever, but it would be helpful to know a few. Narcissism is a helpful one. Antisocial disorder is not too far behind. You could even venture so far as to include Autism, at least, a twisted form of it. The point is, give them a reason for their madness, and not just because they like to be bad.

    Finally, remember to keep your details in order. If you’ve got a narcissistic person with anger issues, they’re going to kill a person a lot more violently than a piano-stringer with an obsession with finesse. If you’re going to go with a disorder, do some research on it first, meet some people who have had the disorder or even try to see if you can find an example in history. If you can’t find anything, I give you permission to search fiction. Sure, it’s not technically the truth, but it certainly is based off some truth.

    REMEMBER this: The villain should be compelling and seemingly unbeatable, the villain has to be in your face, villains are people, and they should have reasons for all the horrible things they do. Evil exists in the world, it just depends which dark corner you fish it out of to flesh out this horrible villain of yours. If you make a good villain, you can bet I’ll read your book if I can find it.

    See you next week!

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7 thoughts on “Character Creation: How to make a convincing villain

  1. I think the most essential part of a good villain is motivation. As you’ve said, villains are real people too; everyone considers themselves to be a protagonist. So why would a real person want genocide? Why would the protagonist go to malevolent extremes to get what they want? Chaotic evil villains are shallow and dull. Villains need to be characters, not just evil.
    Good post!

  2. Pingback: Character Creation: How to make a convincing villain | /LFRP!

  3. Pingback: 5 moments in a story that made me root for the villain~by Kyndon Fall | The Write Stuff

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