Writing Tips

Characterization: Villains

When I was young I wanted to tell fantastic tales of magic and mystery that filled readers with awe. Breathtaking landscapes, mystical creatures, and the ultimate battles of good versus evil. Setting up a good scene is an important part of storytelling, and one that worked very hard at achieving. I would not only create the moment but the historical significance of why the world worked the way it did and how things had come to that point.

What I didn’t understand was that stories aren’t about scenes, they are about characters. The scene is important, but how the characters respond in that scene is even more important. The human element, (even if those humans are fairies or aliens or animals,) is what connects the fictional world to the reader. Because of this, getting to know your characters is the key to making them believable.

As I’ve grown as a writer I’ve also learned to make my characters alive instead of props to the action around them. I like to imagine creating a new character is a lot like getting to know a stranger. Having conversations with my characters brings them to life in my mind. More than just hair, eye, and skin tone but what really makes them tick. What is their favorite color? How to they hold their hands when they speak? Are they expressive, dull, or moody? What is the thing they like about themselves? What do they wish was different? There are so many aspects of a character that make them feel realistic.

This is especially important for the primary players. The protagonist is the person with whom the audience is going to spend the most time, and making them believable is important. However; I believe it is even more important for the antagonist. Protagonists in a good versus evil world are easy to write. They are the “hero” or the “good guy,” Their motivation is easy because that is the point of the story. When it comes to the villain, however; it isn’t quite so clear cut.

The biggest question I ask myself when creating my villains is: why? If I can’t come up with a reasonable explanation, or can only respond “Because (s)he is evil,” that’s not a good enough answer. Villains are people, too. They have vision, dreams, and motivations just like everyone else. They may not even realize that they are the villain depending on their view of the world. Understanding that view is what will make a villain believable or cliché.

Another way I’ve come to look at it is that I’m the villain. I’m the one pitting my heroes against obstacles, putting them in danger, and threatening them at every turn. Why would I be doing this to characters that I have created and given voice? Because a story about how Tim and Sue went to the market isn’t that interested unless a believable conflict occurs.  I merely pass that onto the character who will act as my emissary in being the epicenter of the struggle on the page.

In the end, being a writer is about waging wars within yourself until you can determine the most interesting outcome.

I enjoy writing villains far more than heroes. It is especially fun to write villains who are not as clearly defined as such. Evil often succeeds in festering because it is masked by the many faces of the human experience. When the problem makes sense, bringing the hero in to solve it becomes a much easier process of action and reaction.

What are your favorite types of characters? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!


1 thought on “Characterization: Villains”

  1. I think villains are easier to create than the good guys because we expect the white hat and all that goes with it on the good guys. Although George R R Martin has helped us out so that protagonist and antagonist are more realisitic in that both have warts.

    Personally, I like warty characters. They are shades of gray. Not all good. Not all bad. After all, that’s what people truly are. A stroll down history lane kicks those myths to the curb.

    Good luck with your trilogy!


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