Developing Your Villain

Villains are important. While you might write from your protagonist’s point of view, the conflict between them and whoever or whatever forms the center of your story. I’m a firm believer that your villain has to give your protagonist a sense of sonder.

(Sonder: n. realization that each random passerby is living in a world as real and complex as your own)

It may have been sufficient in the past to center the antagonist around the protagonist, but from the 1980s to today, villains have grown in the public eye. Take a step into Tumblr and you’ll see post after post about Loki, General Hux, Kylo Ren, Rumpelstiltskin, Moriarty and more. Even Disney recently remodeled their villain, Maleficent, to make her the protagonist!  Of course, there were always authors who gave their villains independent personalities (i.e. see Moriarty), but as social media grows, the villains are getting their days.

This means it is especially important for authors to ensure their antagonists are top shape. If your villain is an obsessed stalker, their lives being built around the protagonist makes sense. Otherwise, give them motives. Make sure both you and your reader can answer the following:

  1. What is your villain’s end goal?
  2. Why do they want that end goal?
  3. How do they plan on achieving said goal?
  4. Do they see their plan as immoral? If yes, how do they justify it to themselves? If no, what are their ideas of morality?
  5. How far are they willing to go to achieve their goal?
  6. Is there anyone they wouldn’t hurt?
  7. Who is the most important person to them? Why?
  8. Outside of their goal, what do they value?

Personality is important. If you only know their goal, your villain isn’t developed. Develop a villain like you’d develop the hero. Villains need to have the same sort of independence. Remember: “Every villain is a hero in [their] own mind.”

The villain’s appearance should grow out of their personality. People wear what they like. Whether it’s because it looks good, makes sense, or feels comfortable, most villains don’t jump out of bed and wonder what the hero will be most frightened to see that day. There is a difference between dressing to intimidate and dressing to appease another person. If your villain wants to appeal positively or negatively to your hero, you need to explain why. Readers will pick up on choices built around the hero. That’s why there’s a “Draco Malfoy Syndrome” post floating around the internet.

Many people feel they have to develop their villain around their protagonist. Depending on your genre, you will need to  be careful to ensure they could exist in the same place and would come into confrontation, but the villain doesn’t have to hit every weakness of the hero to be a challenge.

Additionally, a well-developed villain demands a well-developed hero. Interaction between people, especially confrontation, changes them. Leonard Snart was a good example of the hero influencing the villain toward anti-heroism in The Flash television show. Darth Vader and Luke works too. However, becoming a “hero” or “antihero” isn’t the only growth which can occur. Perhaps the villain becomes more vicious or uses the hero(es): Rumpelstiltskin on OUAT, Vandal Savage in Legends of Tomorrow, etc.

All in all – know your villain. Know them beyond the protagonist – beyond their current plot uses.

Good Luck.

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