Friday, October 10, 2014

How to Write a Good Villain

by A.F.Stewart


Like with all characters, when I write villains I strive to create well rounded, relatable constructs with sound reasons for their actions. Those reasons may be awful, but they have to be plausible. Villains need to be complex, like any character, with flaws and quirks, weakness and strengths, but they do come with a built-in problem:  how to make evil seem personable.

I find that’s the core of writing a good villain, connecting to a reader, and—in my opinion—the number one thing a villain needs is motivation, the rationale for why he does all those dastardly things. Does he feel wronged by the world, and is out for revenge? Does he feel he’s doing some kind of service by killing certain types of people, or trying to take over the world? Is he wicked for profit and in the game solely for money? Or does he simply enjoy being bad, and gets a thrill from spewing his evil into the world?

Take my character, Balthazar, who appears in both Killers and Demons, and the new sequel. He’s a horrible murderous demon from Hell, who chases after escaped souls of the damned, and truly enjoys his job. But job performance isn’t his only motivation. His actions are also driven by the selfish desire to stay on the good side of his boss and not return to Hell. He’d much rather remain topside where he can sip fine wine and wear dapper clothes (he’s a bit vain about his appearance). He’s like many people, in that he just wants the good life, the only difference being he does it demon style with a side order of murder and mayhem.

Another example of how I humanized the villains in Killers and Demons II is Hannah. She’s young, a bit cynical, and she’s had some hard breaks in life, but is trying to get by in the sometimes cruel world of Victorian London. I introduce the character as a sympathetic, used and abused woman, then flip a switch to show the rather nasty way she’s decided to deal with her circumstances. I think this ambiguous juxtaposition makes her a very fascinating character despite her wicked ways.


In my experience, the crux of writing a believable antagonist is to appreciate that even bad guys need understanding, and what makes a good villain is the emotional correlation to a reader. They may loathe them, fear them, even somewhat sympathize with them, but on some level a reader has to recognize their emotive mayhem. It’s the little touches, these emotions people identify with, that help ground a villain and bring him (or her) to life on the page.








Come one, come all, to a festival of murder and mayhem.
We have killers, demons, witches and more, with bloody exploits galore.
Evil is back, with a greater appetite for death.

Sample what is offered, but be careful. What you nibble on may turn out to be somebody’s fingers…




A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, and still calls it home.  The youngest in a family of seven children, she has always had an overly creative mind and an active imagination. She is fond of good books (especially science fiction/fantasy), action movies, sword collecting, and oil painting as a hobby.

Ms. Stewart is an indie author with several published novellas and story collections in the dark fantasy or horror genres, with a few side trips into poetry and non-fiction. She has a great interest in history and mythology, often working those themes into her books and stories.


Amazon Author Profile: http://amzn.to/19WZAhE
Smashwords Profile: http://bit.ly/19WZjLu





43 comments :

  1. Thank you, A.F., for this great advice. I need to work on creating better antagonists. My skills are lacking somewhat in this area, so I appreciate the insight here. Thanks for hosting, Joylene.

    Have a wonderful weekend! :)

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Karen. Thanks for your continuing supports. Means a lot.

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    2. Glad I could help, Karen, and thanks for dropping in for this tour stop.

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  2. A little extra insight into villains. And whatever their motivation, it seems right to them.

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    1. Very true. I think human motivation is universal, villains just tend to be extreme about their actions.

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    2. Thanks for stopping by, Alex. Happy Thanksgiving.

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  3. I also want to thank Joylene for hosting me.

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    1. You're very welcome, Anita. It was my pleasure.

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  4. Great insights here...and now I'm off to ponder the different ways to make a villainous MC seem personable...dig deeper into the psyche/background...amongst other things...
    An interesting angle on ambiguous juxtaposition of the villain in your story, A.F.
    Thanks for sharing, Joylene.

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  5. You've made excellent points about those villains. Readers must be able to relate to even the most vile villain, or the story goes flat. Great to meet you, A.F.

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    1. I agree, Cheryl. Great villains make the story.

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    2. Glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for stopping by.

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  6. Great points on villains. Relating to the story characters is the most important part of a story, even the bad guys. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Villains are so hard to do! I always enjoy reading about them. :)

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    1. Me too, Carrie. A well-written villain can be so fun.

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    2. I think the most memorable to date is still Hannibal Hector. Hi Carrie!

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  8. The villain almost has to have more depth than the hero.

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    1. True. They have more to overcome to engage a reader.

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    2. Otherwise the story becomes out of balance. Hi Diane!

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  9. Hi, Joylene. Thanks for hosting A. F. Stewart. Great points on writing good villains.

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    1. Appreciate you stopping by, Susanne. I'm thrilled to spotlight Anita's newest book.

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  10. Hi A.F. - those are perfect points abut writing an effective villain. To be really frightening, they have to be realistic and not caricatures. Wishing you much success! :)

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  11. Excellent post. It's true that villains need to be understood and somewhat sympathetic too. It makes the story so much more interesting. And it's needed to balance out the hero. They're two sides to the same coin, both sides need to be polished.

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    1. I think that's another reason why Harris' Hannibal Hector is so memorable. One has only to understand Hector's childhood to see where he ended up as he did.

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  12. Congratulations A F! And thanks for all the tips and great points!

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  13. The research I was doing for one such villainous character in a novel was getting me really low and nowhere in terms of understanding him. I had started the novel with a big opening scene, but I hadn't really thought through where it was going. With the research, the books about FBI profiling and such were horrifyingly bleak to me. Then I happened to look up a few vids of serial killers' interviews, and what struck me (and gave me the wherewithal to 'write' my character) was the sense of entitlement many of them have. A form of narcissism. Youtube is a super resource for a quick study of most things. I don't know if it works for my character - and I have provided a strongly typical background for the guy too (while trying to be original, of course) - but sometimes in order to "push through", understanding the character might come afterwards for a writer. That's some great advice on antiheroes and villains, AF - "awful" and "plausible" rationales.

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    1. Thanks so much, Scribbler. I understand your dilemma. When I studied Vancouver's journalist's account of serial killer, Clifford Olsen, it was creepy how charming the entire investigating force found him to be. As if he could be their next BFF.

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  14. Fantastic post, Joylene. I have a new idea for a manuscript and am trying to rationalize my villain's behavior. This is really hard for me because my story will be based on true events. I'm still toying around with the plot but reading this has made me realize how much I have to give reasoning, although I might not like it, behind my villain's actions. We really do have to put ourselves in his/her's shoes.
    I have a new blog address now... it's www.ginastoneheart.blogspot.com I'm still trying to figure out how to plug it into my blogger profile because every time I try, my computer freezes on me. Ugg

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    1. That's not good. It could be blogger, because there are often reoccurring problems. Knock on wood. Thanks for visiting, Gina.

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  15. Awesome thoughts. I always take the approach that villains are people too, and deep down we all have wants and needs and are seeking to fulfill them. If I don't know why my villain does what he/she does, I'm not ready to write him or her. I think they have to be as strongly fleshed out as the protagonist.

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    1. I agree, Crystal. Makes me think of Leon in Blade Runner. Scary character, but well-rounded.

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  16. Good post. Sometimes we underestimate the important of having a well-rounded villain. I believe the villain has to be a worth opponent, otherwise our stories suffer.

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  17. Great post and good advice on villains.

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  18. Hi Joylene and AF - I guess, not that I write stories, villains need to be able to be turned .. so they can become something of value to society .. and thus as we write them they'll need to have something of redemption in them ... or they're truly horrific - as you describe above with Olsen ...who must be just the worst. Fascinating that we need to develop our characters so thoroughly for our plots ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Good points, Hilary. We need to remember that even bad guys are human to some degree. Thanks, Hilary.

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