Writers often spend a great deal of time developing their protagonists only to neglect their villains. However, a well-developed villain is just as important as the protagonist to a story’s success.
A villain who is too evil or not evil enough, a villain who is one-dimensional or a villain lacking clear motivation are some of the problems you might run into while trying to develop a character who will oppose your protagonist. A great villain can sometimes be the difference between a novel that is good and a novel that is great. Here are some questions you can ask yourself in creating that great villain.
When you think of ‘a really powerful bad guy’, how do you imagine them? Someone with a lot of money? Status? Pawns?
Power can be a lot more than someone with a lot of resources… Let’s look at some of the different types of power:
- Physical power. Someone with great physical strength. Their power is best demonstrated in a physical fight. They use total dominance and aggressive, scare-tactics to maintain their position. If they lose a fight, they lose their influence of fear…
- Intellectual power. Someone with a vast quantity of knowledge. Their power is in the information they have, and how they decide to use or apply it.
- Coercive Power. This is power attained through the punishment of those who don’t comply. The power accumulates when others actively try to avoid bringing a punishment upon themselves.
- Informational Power. This person knows things the other characters want or need to know. They can exercise their power by purposely withholding information, or only giving it in the way they specifically choose.
- Legitimate Power. Someone in a high position, whether it be in government, the military or any standard work place. Their power is in their rank - without their title, they lose everything that comes with it.
- Generational Power. This person comes from a long-line of powerful people. All of their power is in their reputation, so they must uphold it if they wish to be respected as their ancestors were. This power can also manifest as a bloodline power or ability.
- Expert Power. The best of the best, this person is hailed as the most knowledgeable in a specific field. Therefore, they hold onto power not only through intrigue and recommendation, but by consistently proving they are better than any of the competition.
- Ownership Power. This person only has power because they have claimed ownership of everything they command.
- Reward Power. Someone who can offer special treatment or material items as a reward for desired behaviour from their subordinates. If they have something that is heavily sought-after, then their power grows all the more.
- Referent Power. This person may have very little that entitles them to power, but the way they are received by others demands respect and reverence. In essence, they are worthy of power only if those who ‘worship’ them continue to believe they deserve their admiration.
When you imagine a ‘tyrannical despot’ character, you’re automatically taking from this list more than one form of power. That’s not to say a character can’t possess more than one type… but the despot character is a very specific one, along with the kinds of power they can exercise.
A despot maintains legitimate power - more often than not - by forcing their way into the seat (otherwise they wouldn’t be despotic). Since they fear their title cannot retain their power alone, they begin to exercise other types of power to keep their status. So, for example, reward power to those they want to keep close, coercive power to those who look like they may not be loyal to the cause, etc.
When you find yourself thinking up an antagonist, try to think about what other kind of powers might be in their reach.
Ultimately, in a story, there is The Big Bad. So, in Shaman King, although Yoh and his friends go through the tournament facing-off against a lot of different Shamans in one-on-one/group battles (arguably, mini-antagonists with different extents of power), the ultimate bad guy is Hao, who plots to win and use the legitimate power that comes with that to reform the world into a Shaman-only place.
Hao isn’t the Shaman world’s equivalent of a CEO or national leader; all he has from the list above is generational power and great physical power based on the fact that his spirit ally is nails as hell. He isn’t already the Shaman King… it’s something he is shown to work his way towards becoming.
You don’t always have to create the character to be at their peak from the very beginning. Even those without great legitimate power can hold something over the heads of your main cast in order to antagonise them throughout the story.
Power comes in all forms, and it’s not always, ‘the most powerful and influential person in the world’. Alongside Hao, there are other great and powerful shamans in Shaman King that hold power over Yoh and the other characters in some way. Just look at Lyserg, who becomes completely taken over by the X-Laws even though they’re not in a leadership role; they win him over by claiming expert power and using Iron Maiden Jeanne’s referent power as a poster for their ‘worthiness’.
Additionally, the shaman world coexists with the real world and even though the humans still have powerful representatives, those people have no influence on the story’s events.
I think all you really need to do here is think about new ways of creating your ‘really powerful bad guy’ by re-establishing the types of power they will need in order to do their job as your bad guy. When you start to think about making the biggest, baddest of the lot, scale the character down a little and think about other ways they could influence the lives of your other cast members. Basically, take away all of their resources and re-imagine what they would have to use and/or do to exert the power you want to give them.
Nobody is saying this character can’t become the biggest and the baddest… but they don’t always have to start out that way.
I hope this helps… Followers, any additional thoughts?
You know that moment when the hero has almost been defeated, so the villain decides to CONFESS EVERYTHING all at once and reveal all of his or her plans. After seeing this a few times, you begin to notice the pattern. Instead of just defeating the protagonist, the villain spends those precious moments giving away valuable information about his or her plans. But WHY??
I’m pretty sure a joke is made about this in Austin Powers because this happens so often. The antagonist wastes his or her own time that could be spent finishing their plans. I know this is because the author wants to stall or make things more dramatic, so sometimes it’s necessary. However, I think we need to start discovering more interesting ways to create tension.
If you desperately want your antagonist to confess something to your hero, try to make it as realistic as possible. Maybe there’s a reason why your antagonist has to wait to defeat your main character. Maybe there’s a moment that makes it possible for them to have a conversation (they’re both trapped somewhere or they’re actively fighting each other). Be creative and think through how you want your characters to interact. Create tension that doesn’t feel silly.
During these conversations, where the villain makes his or her confession, there’s a huge chance you’ll think of clichéd lines of dialogue that are often used in these situations. “We’re not so different, you and I.” or “We should work together!” are good examples of what I’m talking about. Try to be aware of the dialogue you’re using.
- Is almost always the protagonist or on the same side as the protagonist (either because they support the protagonist or because they will get something out of it)
- Has an ambiguous moral compass
- Usually has a good outcome if they win
- Is sympathetic to the reader
- The opposite of a typical hero while still holding the hero’s position or duties
- Can be the protagonist, but is most often the antagonist (antagonist does not equal villain)
- Is immoral
- Usually has a chaotic outcome if they win
- Is not supposed to be sympathetic to the reader
from Bullies, Bastards and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page Morrell
Plants, animals, objects, places, and people all have names. Naming people and things in your story has a practical purpose because it appeals to the reader’s loic and memory. In fiction, we name characters to differentiate them, to suggest their age, social standing, and personality, to make them solid and distinctive, and to signal to readers that the person is worth noting. Generally, the more complicated your character is, the more distinct his or her name should be, keeping in mind that names evoke responses in readers and ignite their imaginations. All fiction writers should collect names in a notebook, starting with the standard method of gathering names by perusing phone books, obituaries, and baby name books.
Take care with creating your characters’ names, especially your villain’s name, and be careful not to choose a name that works against type. Generally, you wouldn’t choose a name for a villain that suggests a softie, nor would you give a good guy a name that has a dark connotation. The best names are suggestive, reflect the genre type, and reflect an era. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Voldemort’s name is so feared that few people speak it out loud; they instead call him He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Your villain’s name should reflect menace, coldness, and strength. Use hard consonants and sounds to suggest menace or other frightening characteristics, like Stark, the villain in Stephen King’s The Dark Half. Conversely, good guys will have names that suggest goodness or strength, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin.
You are also wise to use names that are suggestive; for example, Romeo suggests romance, Holly Golightly suggests a light-hearted nature, and Scarlett O’Hara suggests a flamboyant beauty. In Dean Koontz’s Forever Odd, the villainess is named Datura, which reflects her kinkiness, coldness, and cruelty. However, Koontz cleverly has chosen a name with layers of meaning, something fiction writers are always striving for. Datura is a flowering plant that is also called devil’s trumpet and angel’s trumpet, and there are many myths associated with it in cultures worldwide.
HOW TO PLAY A GREAT VILLAIN
With all good roleplays, there is always that one character that has been deemed the villain. However, they may not try to take over the world or kill off a ton of people there is that one character that happens to antagonize the wellbeing of others and the plot itself. It is a role that is typically well thought out and presented by the admins, but most players are too nervous to try being the villain and they think that they won’t be as convincing as they wish.
This shall be one of various other approaches to achieve playing a believable villain.
001. HOW TO PLAY A REALLY CREEPY FUCKING GUY
So I’ve seen plenty of people making attempts at creeping out character and player alike with their characters, and it always falls flat. They lay on it far too much, or not at all, and it’s a very sad thing. I’m going to write this how-to with the assistance of my character Tomislav. Everyone say hello to Tomo. He very much likes talking about himself.
The conflict between absolute good and absolute evil is the oldest conflict in literary history. Humans have been writing about dual morality for thousands upon thousands of years. Recently, the battle of good vs. evil has migrated from religion into the fictional setting. The plot goes like this: the protagonist teams up with a group of like-minded people to do battle against the Others. The Others are evil. Every single Other person you meet will be evil. They are traitorous, cowardly, self-serving, and hateful. The protagonist and allies will be generous, brave, caring, and selfless. People introduced to the story are either with or against the protagonist. In the end, good triumphs over evil. The angels win; Satan goes back in the pit.
This plot may be time-tested, but it is BORING. It’s time for a change.
I really strongly disagree with that idea that the “Good vs. Evil” trope is boring, and I do not believe that recent or even classic examples of the “Good vs. Evil” trope deal in absolutes one hundred percent of the time. There may be ultimate good guys and bad guys, but there are plenty of layers in between in nearly every story I can think of that deals with this trope.
Nevertheless, this is a great article on conflict, the “Good vs. Evil” trope, and exploring the trope’s nuances. Have at it!
Wattpad brings you a guest post from Bethany Myers, on creating great villains in literature.
You can read her novel “The Busgirl Blues” free on Wattpad:
Sometimes the best matches are the ones you least expect.
What Every Villain Needs
The store of synonyms for villain is so well stocked that it seems, well, villainous to employ that relatively colorless word in favor of many worthy substitutes — especially in humorous contexts. Here’s a roster of appropriate alternatives.