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Be Prepared: Let's Talk Villains

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Who doesn't love a villain? Or at least love to hate them? Writing villains might be the best part of storytelling because through them you can get out all your demons or give your real-life enemy the ending they deserve. #winning

And if your protagonist happens to get utterly destroyed in the process? Even better! How else are you supposed to practice writing emotional scenes? Or write the legendary "let's bandage up these wounds" moments?

But how do you write a multi-dimensional villain? While it may be fun, it's not exactly easy. Let's look at a few ways you can ensure your readers love your villain or at the very least, not view them as one note.

1. Give them some backstory

Why are they the way they are? Is there something from their past that's making them take these steps? Did something bad happen to them in the past? Was their childhood tragic? Or do they just love to murder? Is it their favorite hobby? You're villain doesn't need to have a good justification for what they're doing but they do need to believe in it with all their heart. And when you're setting up characters or in the revision process, you want to understand their backstory and why it's affecting what they do in present just as much, if not more, than they do.

2. Why are they the good guy in their own story

This is one of those classic tips that everyone's probably heard. If your villain was the protagonist, what would their justification be for what they're doing? How are they the good guy in their own head? While this may be one of those overused tips, it's that way for a reason. It works! It's almost impossible to write a good complex villain without knowing their justification for their actions. Are they trying to gain more power? Make the world better in their own way? Are they just looking for a good time? Or do they want the world to turn to utter chaos? If they were the protagonist, how would you write them?

3. Relate to the protagonist

Why are the protagonist and your villain butting heads? Do they not share the same values or morals or is there something even bigger going on? Are they the opposite sides of the same coin? Or are they fighting for the same cause but using different tactics? How do they relate? Think about Professor X and Magneto. They want the same outcome of equality for mutants, but have completely different ways of getting there.

This is one of the first things you'll want to plan, planners. Or something you'll want to make sure you figure out during the revising period, pantser.

4. Small Details

What is different about your villain? What sets them apart? What is their weakness? What is their strength? Ask your villain some random questions to find out more about them. What's their favorite color? What do they eat for breakfast? What do they do when they aren't pissing off the hero? Does your villain like to crochet? You probably won't use these answers in your story, but it will help you get into their head. I'm the ultimate planner, so I do this before I write the first chapter, but if you're a pantser, you can either use this trick when you're stuck or when you need help with characterization during the editing process. (Enjoy sparkly Rumlestiltskin!)

5. Climax (THE MOMENT)

How are the protagonist and the villain going to come head to head? What will their interactions look like before their final battle? And what will the ultimate climax look like? Is the villain going to die? How? Will they be arrested? Or will they be stopped in another way? Or is your story not happy at all and the villain win? (OMG) This is one of my favorite scenes to write because a lot of times it's the scene that sparks the story to begin with.

This scene needs to hold a lot of emotion and make a big impact. If you haven't built up your villain enough up to this point, you'll know it because when you read back your story, the climax will not have the punch in the gut it needs. Make your readers cry!! Or gasp! Or scream!

How do you create complex, multidimensional villains? Let us know in the comments below!


About the author: Sarah Perchikoff is a writer and bookworm. She lives with her miniature dachshund named Gracie. You can find her on Twitter @sperchikoff or at her book review blog, Bookish Rantings.

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