Character Ideas - Creating a Villain

(On this page, you'll find advice on writing a great villain. For more story and character ideas, be sure to sign up to our free e-mail group.)

Creating a villain is the same as creating any other character. You have to make the villain real in your own mind so that you can bring him/her to life on the page.

Some authors find it helpful to make character profiles to get to know their characters. You can find character profiling questionnaires here.

Remember that even the most evil people don't normally think of themselves as villains. In their own minds, their actions make sense. They have reasons for what they do.

Why does your villain commit evil deeds? You need to be able to get inside the character's head to understand the logic of his/her actions from his/her perspective.

If you're not sure what's motivating your villain, here are two suggestions:

1) Your villain has something to gain by committing evil. This might be money, power, love, revenge, or something else that your villain badly wants.

2) Your villain might commit evil to avoid some real or imagined danger to himself/herself.

What does your villian want? What is your villain afraid of? Asking yourself these questions is a good first step to bringing your villain to life.

You can make your villain more interesting by avoiding clichés. Evil is often creepier when it's found in unexpected places.

In Rowling's Harry Potter novels, the main villain is of course Voldemort, with his skeletal appearance, his red eyes, his cold evil laugh and an affinity for snakes. This is your standard cartoon villain. Reading the books (I haven't seen the movies, so can't comment on those), I was never really afraid of this villain because he didn't seem real.

On the other hand, there's another, minor, villain in these books whom I found much more interesting. Professor Dolores Umbridge is a cruel, sadistic woman with a sugary voice and a bow in her hair, fluffy pink cardigan sweaters, and an office decorated with pictures of frolicking kittens. Her unique combination of cutesiness and evil made her a memorable character. And it made my skin crawl.

Villains, like other people, have a mix of character traits. They have talents and hobbies and families and vulnerabilities. They have good qualities as well as bad.

A vicious assassin might be a good parent or a talented violin player or kind to orphaned animals.

What unexpected attributes can you give your villain? In general, the more real you can make your villain as a character, the more frightening and memorable s/he will be.

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