Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,
How Does Your Villain Grow?
With a demented mind and evil heart
And motivation that readers know.
Okay, so that’s a cheesy poem, but it gets my point across. When creating a villain, keep in mind he can’t just be evil for the sake of being evil. Too cliché. Showing that he’s a psychopath and can’t control his urges is overdone. Readers want more from the villain. They don’t necessarily have to sympathize with him, but they need to understand what makes him do the nasty things he does. Motivation. This doesn’t mean you should dump the villain’s motivation at the beginning of the story, but you should hint at it along the way.
A well-written villain is a character readers love to hate. They want to see the hero and/or heroine beat him. They don’t want a two-dimensional character who kills just to kill or to get an emotional high from slaughtering innocent people. If you’ve ever watched the TV series Criminal Minds, you’ll have an idea of how to portray your villain three-dimensionally. The FBI profilers on this show often talk about triggers. Something happened in the villain’s life that caused him to lose sight of reality and begin his evil path. What prompted the villain to kill isn’t something that would make a normal person become a murderer. There’s still something about the villain that made him snap when others would have possibly struggled but not gone over the edge. It’s up to you to create the background or character history that would grow a villain. His motivation should be strong, clear, and believable, but warped.
Let’s face it. There are a lot of sick puppies in the real world who do bad things that we don’t understand. However, in fiction, readers expect more from the villain that a real life psychopath. This isn’t any different than what the reader expects from the hero or heroine. They don’t want to read about someone who just walks through life. They want to see character goals, motivations, conflicts, and resolution. The villain, just like the other main characters in the story, should have his own GMCs. He just won’t be able to resolve his conflict. But ensuring all major characters in your story have believable goals, motivations, and conflicts means they should feel real to the reader. If the reader cheers for the hero/heroine and hates the villain, you’ve done your job.
Who are some of your favorite villains and why?