Writing A Believable Villain

For this one, I am going to tell you some of the things I believe makes a good villain. Keep in mind, I am far from an expert on this so this is my own personal opinions. I think that, there are many different kinds of villains in fiction from enemies that are the epitome of evil (like Sauron from Lord of the Rings or Voldemort for most of Harry Potter) to more morally complex villains.

I personally like the more morally complex villains that aren’t the representation of the epitome of evil. Although you can do “the epitome of evil villain” well by having lesser more morally complex villains that serve the greater epitome of evil. (Think of the Malfoy’s in Harry Potter). That way you can tap into the best of both worlds.

While the motivations of why Nuada does what she does in Lies of the Haven are not fully explained, it is clear the only reason she is making the morally corrupt decisions she is making, is because she believes she has some justification for her actions. (In book 2, more of her motivations will be explained). 🙂

In order to make a morally complex villain, there has to be some aspect of their character that you as a reader can relate to on some level. We call this “petting the cat” (Note, this isn’t the same as “saving the cat” as explained in my last post). Your villain, though you don’t sympathize with them, should have some relatable aspect to them to show that they are still human. For example, if your villain has someone they care about or you see the villain petting a cat, that is something you can relate to in order to show they aren’t this evil cardboard cut out of evil. They have human aspects to them.

While the goal isn’t necessarily to get readers to sympathize with the villain, the goal is to cast some level of belief that this type of villain could actually exist and to cast moral complexity to the situation the hero/protagonist is dealing with.

I’m going to switch tracks here and talk briefly about villains vs. antagonists. In your book, your villain will usually be the main antagonist to the main character (aka protagonist). An antagonist is someone who stops the main character from reaching their goals and progressing. In Lies of the Haven, Nuada is the main antagonist/villain but her interactions with Mina are limited. So I threw in some side antagonists in the form of Arius and Thaya. While Arius in particular is not a villain, he is an antagonist, because he, intentionally or not, casts doubt on and impedes Mina from attaining her goals.

So you can have antagonists in your story that aren’t necessarily classified as a villain. The question becomes, what role does that particular character serve in the story?

I spoke in Writing Engaging Plot and Conflict of creating a flaw for your main character that they have to overcome by the end of the book. One way to drive home the importance of your main character overcoming their flaw is to show the villain NOT overcoming a similar or the same shortcoming, thus leading them to their downfall.

For example, in one of my favorite shows, Avatar: the Last Airbender, Prince Zuko, eventually learns the importance of love, friendship and support in his life. He learns this from his Uncle Iroh, and in the end, that important lesson allows him to recognize the dysfunction and abuse put upon him by his father, someone who was supposed to love and support him but didn’t. This allows Zuko to break from his father and the destiny that his father has forced upon him. Zuko then is free to embrace love and friendship from people he knows are willing to give it, and to determine his own destiny.

In contrast, his sister Azula, a villain, has the opportunity to show love and support for her friends Tai Li and Mai but instead uses fear and manipulation to get what she wants. And when that fear and manipulation fails to control people in the end, instead of learning her lesson, it drives her to greater distrust and emotional instability that leads to her defeat at the hands of Zuko and Katara.

These are just a few aspects that make a believable villain but by incorporating some of these aspects into your writing you will be on your way to creating a great villain!

Thanks again to Katelynn for the great question!

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