Friday, March 6, 2020

Good News about Writing A Bad Villain

Next week I had been scheduled to appear at a writing conference and be part of a panel on villains, but with my travel  in a state of flux and indecision on whether to attend, I am going to provide a brief look at some of  what I intended to say in the discussion.. 

Villains have always drawn us into books and stories -- whether we hate the villain or find ourselves enjoying them.  Don’t we all know villains that we wanted to absolutely hate, but then we suddenly find we don’t want to see them killed off?  Perhaps we want them to live and suffer. Sometimes we even wish they could turn the page and with the right guidance he or she might come back as a good guy. What is it about some villains that just get under our skin? I wish I had the answer, but after talking to many writers—including some bestselling authors—I’ve discovered that there is no particular secret to creating a villain. 

Just as there is no magic formula to writing a great character, each villain must grow from inside of each of us and take their cues from the story itself. We can guide them in a particular way, but we can’t make the automatically behave a certain way if they don’t want to. They need to come from inside of us—the writer—and it is up to us to breathe that particular life into them. But we can make them special and we do need to make them all individual—as individual as any other character in a book.

    With all that in mind here are some ideas to consider when you start to create your own villains: 

  1. We don’t want them to be ordinary. Our villains need to be worthy of the story they inhabit. Do we want our heroes and heroines to go up against someone common that anyone can destroy? No, we want to make them strong enough that they can connive and endanger the hero and heroine while remaining anonymous if they are in a mystery or very powerful if we see them in true form from the beginning. 
  2. They should be constantly on the page or their deeds the results of their evil deeds should be steadily in the picture. Certainly we don’t want them to take over the story, but they personally need to be around often enough to cause problems for our hero and heroine. If they aren’t personally on the page, their deeds need to bring on trouble, especially just when everyone least expects it, and they need to bring on trouble in a big way. They have to bring in a problem that can’t be solved in a couple of scenes.
  3. A cartoon or cardboard villain is going to get boring very quickly. They need to be as unpredictable and as smart or smarter than your main character. Don’t we all love it when the ordinary guy can out do or out battle a superhuman villain in a simple way? A worthy foe makes your hero or heroine that much stronger when the good guys win in the end.
  4. How about a likeable villain? Well, maybe not too likeable, but think about those villains that you almost wish could get away because with a little rehabilitation they might be able to go in the right direction. We’ve all seen the in books and it takes a good author to create one who gives you that sensation. It could be the villain is nice to animals or helps others when he isn’t thieving from the rich. But if he’s taken bundles from the bank, he will still need to go to jail. Maybe your hero or heroine can take on the dogs he’s been befriending.
  5. Think about the villains that appeal to you as you create your own individual bad guys. Who was it that attracted your attention or made you think – whether in a good way or a bad way when you read their story or watched them in a movie or tv series? Think about their traits or what they do that caught your attention. Can you do that for the villain in your book? You might also look back at famous villains and those we want to see more of in the future.
  6. Don’t forget the secret villain – or the invisible ones that we don’t learn who they are, and even though the hero or heroine might solve their case or fix whatever is wrong that villain might still be out there.  
If you would like to know more about creating villains you might want to check out my new book on villains, written with co-author Sue Viders now available at  Amazon. All our books are available at 

For more information on the writing process, please visit

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