Writing a Convincing Villain

Character development is something most writers should prioritise, and they should pay special attention to the villain of the story. Nobody is born a villain, rather they're made into one or become one due to their surroundings and key events happening in their lives. In this article, we'll explore how you can write a convincing villain that has your reader hooked (or even rooting for them).

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Give them a backstory

Villains don't just wake up one day and decide to be villainous, rather there's a reason for why they are the way they are. To write a convincing villain, they need to have a backstory to answer the question of 'what happened in their past to make them the way that they are now?'. Once you've figured this out, you'll start to understand why they may use certain actions. For example, someone who has been betrayed may be on a revenge plot to hurt the one who hurt them. Furthermore, they may also never trust anyone ever again, meaning they have no friends and become quite tentative of the world around them.

Classic children's Christmas tale, The Grinch, has a great villain backstory. The Grinch didn't always hate Christmas and those who took part in it. He once loved a girl and had planned to gift her a special Christmas present, but instead was made fun of and went on a tyrant in the classroom. He then retreated to the frost mountain where he deemed that he would always hate Christmas.

What are their motivations?

Now that you've discovered what's made them the way they are, next plot what's motivating them to continue being the 'bag guy'. Could it be that they've vowed to get revenge? Maybe they're trying to save their own Kingdom, for example, and so are pledging war? Whatever it is, it has to be believable and tie into their backstory.

A great villain is The Darkling in Leigh Bardugo's Grishaverse books. His motivation is to keep Grisha safe, however, he goes about it in the wrong way and become consumed with power. He starts to turn on those who don't support him, Grisha or not, but he's convinced himself that everything he has done has been for Grisha. That's his motivation to keeping the Shadow Fold, using it as a weapon to other countries who want to see Grisha dead.

Make them likeable and relatable

I know what you're thinking, 'why would I make my villain likeable, he's a villain?!' Yes, it might seem like an odd statement but making your villain likeable, or at least relatable, can allow your readers to better connect with the character. The best villains are the kind that make you want to root for them and are usually incredibly likeable which makes the inevitable betrayal all the more shocking and hurtful.

If you don't want to make your villain likeable you should make them relatable. This is because it allows the reader to connect with them and understand why they are feeling a certain way or doing certain actions. The reader should be able to see a little bit of themselves in the villain, which, if written well, should terrify them.

Avoid stereotypical villain dialogues

Let me tell you, I cannot stand it when a villain starts monologuing. They begin to tell the hero exactly how they're going to carry out their plan to take over the world making it just too easy for the protagonist to stop them in their fateful tracks. There are also many other phrases and dialogue that is a typical cliche of a villain, such as;

  • ‘We meet again, Mr. X…’

  • ‘Say goodbye to your [life/dreams/pet poodle/]

  • Say hello to [my little friend/my obedient entourage]

  • ‘Did you really think you would [defeat me/find the documents/die without listening to a long and self-congratulating monologue first]?

Let the villain win sometimes

If your villain is going to be believable, you need to let them win sometimes otherwise, not only is your protagonist going to find winning too easy, but your story won't be as entertaining. Simply put, your villain isn't going to be much of a threat if he doesn't have some victories along the way. A great villain shocks you. A perfect example of this is Avengers: Infinity War when *spoiler alert* Thanos wins. Half the population has disappeared, the remaining avengers are in Peril, Vision has been killed and it is sheer and utter chaos and disappointment (queue the throwing of popcorn). It doesn't have to be a major win either but small victories here and there help remind the reader that defeating this villain won't be so easy.