3 Ways to Create a Compelling Villain For Your Next Story

3 Ways to Create a Compelling Villain For Your Next Story

Whether you’re writing a novel, novella, short story or a work of flash fiction, sometimes you need an eye-watering source of evil to spice things up. Something that provokes feelings of disgust, fear, unrest or something that people love to loathe.

Usually, this comes from the tale’s main antagonist or villain.

In other words, a character who makes life unbearable for everyone or everything around them. A person, animal or force that is worse than Genghis Khan, Hans Gruber, Count Olaf and Lord Voldemort combined.

Every reader loves to loathe a villain.

If you’re sitting there, scratching your head looking for the inspiration you need to conjure up that skin curlingly disgraceful or spit-worthy character you need to make your story complete, follow these three simple steps.

1.Think of the kind of evil that will suit your story

We’ve established that you would like to create a real nasty piece of work.

You know, the kind of character who would steal Christmas gifts from an orphanage, or snatch a blind old lady’s guide dog. But, what you don’t want to do is choose the wrong kind of evil for your story.

To make sure you don’t choose the wrong evil traits for your character, sit down in a comfy seat with the outline of your plot or your draft so far and consider the kind of antagonist that will slip into your story seamlessly.

Think about your setting, where the story will take the reader, the relationships between other key characters, the conflict and the resolution.

If you’re going for a tale that includes all-out guts and gore, then perhaps a murderous, cannibalistic madman or woman will work wonders. But, if you’re taking your reader on a tightly-wound psychological journey, a vindictive, calculating intellectual will suit. Of course, the latter character could be capable of committing a murder, but portraying them as loud, brash and manic in the context of a psychological mystery might not do your story justice.

Think about the core traits that will work for your character. Write them down, refine them, and you’ll be able to build a portfolio for your antagonist.

2. Give your antagonist a name and a look, then, take a step back

Now you’ve identified the sort of skin melting pure evil that will sprinkle a wonderfully sinister element to your work of fiction; it’s time to give it a name.

Christen that character and the rest will follow.

Much like when you’re trying to write an eye-catching headline for an article, giving your character a name will help you define them.

Naming your character will also help them jump off the page in all their toe-curling, snarl-making glory.

Essentially, you’ll give yourself an extra boost of evil inspiration (this calls for a Dr. Evil-style pinky-to-corner-of-mouth moment).

Before you conjure up a title for your antagonist, sit back, close your eyes and harness those evil thoughts.

Think about what you hate and what gets your goat. Consider a person from your past who embodied everything that’s wrong with the world. It could be the science teacher who told you you’d never amount to anything, or that ex who treated you like a piece of proverbial dirt. Also, use those feelings and those people to define the aesthetics of your character. Was that science teacher portly with breadstick fingers, or your ex spindly with intense goggle eyes?

Use this to help name your character — organizing your thoughts on paper or screen as you go.

Brainstorm a number of names, being as plain or as wacky as you like — you’ll know what feels right for your story — go for a cuppa, and come back to your workstation to settle on the name of your despicable creation.

Now you’ll be able to link those core character traits to the name and help connect the dots that will bind your character’s being.

At this point, you should stop what you’re doing and take a break. An essential part of the ideation process, stepping away from your project and resting your mind for an hour, a week, or even a day will help your ideas incubate.

3. Create your character’s persona and go wild

When marketers are trying to target potential customers, they use buyer personas to craft content that will strike a chord with them. Creating a character for your story is no exception.

Now you’ve bestowed your antagonist with those core evil character traits and given them a name, it’s time to make them real — at your own peril, of course.

To help give them an all-important human element that will appeal to your readers — and this applies even if your antagonist is an animal or a monster — you should create a full ‘evil character persona’.

You can craft evil character persona by looking at certain character traits, personal attributes and other information including age and background.

To help you bring your antagonist to life, here are the headings you should use to fill in the gaps:

  • Age
  • Brief early life bio
  • Economic or social background
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Signature item of clothing
  • Main source of evil
  • Reason for being evil
  • Main weakness
  • Main strength
  • Current incentive for being evil
  • Most skin curling physical feature

By working through this checklist methodically, you will be able to create a full background profile for your antagonist and have them jumping off the page in no time — just don’t look directly at them.

By now, you’ll have a detailed three dimensional source of evil for your story. Not only will you feel more emotionally connected to your character, but it will be like they’re in the room with you (scary thought) — which will of course, have them jumping off the page throughout your story.

An antagonist that will fit into your narrative like a glove and have your readers groaning in anger — literally.

Did this help you come up with your most evil character yet? Let us know by leaving a comment.

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26 comments

  • ConnieMWT says:

    Just in time! I knew my villian, who is not your conventional Simon Legree type, needed some fleshing out. Why did she end up so evil? Your list of traits did it for me, and I will now weave those points into my book to make her truly believable. Thank you for a great article.

    • Dan Hughes says:

      You’re more than welcome.

      Looking forward to reading your book when it’s been fleshed out with pure evil.

  • When I last wrote a novel, I knew my villain had really come to life when I caught myself trying to protect my protagonist from him. Once I realized I had not been allowing the villain to do what the evil character I had created would have done, I was able to permit him to “do his worst,” and the protagonist thus faced a more deeply existential situation.

    I found that part of what made the villain so real was that I had taken time from the start to think through his motivation. He was not out to be a villain just for villainy’s sake, and he had no interest in being a foil for the person I considered my “main character.” His story was about himself, no matter who some aspiring author thought the story was about.

    Years later, he still seems real to me.

    Trish O’Connor
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
    epiclesisconsulting.com

  • Dan Hughes says:

    No problem at all, I’m glad it’s helped and good luck with creating your evil villan.

  • Dan says:

    Set out almost year ago to write about inherent evil at core of a particular religious movement. Especially when wedded to politics! How it clouds any kind of “perceived” success.

    And…Yeah, am mostly spinning my wheels with it.

    To refocus your ideas to narrative non-fiction, say, can I extrapolate your “character” evil over into an “object” evil, instead, ‘ya think?

    And come up with a similar readership impact? Any advice?

    Thanks much! Enjoyed your article!

    • Taren Randal says:

      Hope this helps.

      Some of the best villains in history are the hero of their own stories. Both Al Capone and Hitler were convinced they were doing something good. They were following the ultimate good as they understood it. If you are telling the story of ultimate evil embodied in a religious zealot, remember that according to his religion he is doing god’s work no matter the cost. He is the ultimate good in his own eyes.

      • Dan says:

        A well-described point, thanks loads! In my frustration to “stay the course” — e.g., stay away from spurious applause that follows movements initially when successful, economically — I’d let that issue damn-near get cold on the back burner. With reason now to re-focus meaning of “success,” already I feel better! Thanks again!

        • Dan, I just wanted to say, as someone whose niche is editing books in some way related to spirituality, that it sounds as if you are working hard on an incredibly interesting project.

          I wish you success with it!

          Trish O’Connor
          Epiclesis Consulting LLC
          Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
          epiclesisconsulting.com

          • Dan says:

            Thanks much, Trish!

            Without a doubt, I need professional guidance, yes! But retired, and on a poorboy’s budget, however.

            My wife and I both are on fixed low incomes. And, too, we still have a teenage daughter entering college this fall to help!

            At some point, I’ll have to holler calf rope and look for an editor. But I just don’t think I’m at that point yet. Too disorganized, for one!

            Thank you again for your kindness!

    • Daniel Hughes says:

      Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • Gail says:

    Being new to fictional writing this was a great help.

  • Aleta K Dye says:

    Love this. In my current WIP, it was easy, but I have other WIP’s that are not so easy. This is going to be a great help. Thanks so much.

  • @Dan
    That was a terrific article where you created the villain with three crucial ingredients. I wonder if there are stories/ novels which have been penned from start to the end with villain’s perspective, I mean villain is the hero.

    • Daniel Hughes says:

      No worries at all, I’m pleased it helped and entertained.

      Very good question, I’ll have a think on that for sure.

    • In a sense, that’s kind of the effect you get with an “antihero,” a main character whose flaws drive the story more than his or her virtues.

      I think many writers today reject the idea of a full-fledged villain or hero, and to tell you the truth, I think that’s been a bit of a loss. In real life, almost all people are too complex to fit neatly into black and white categories, but sometimes in storytelling, it is useful to frame the tale as a struggle between good and evil. The characters do not have to be seen as the kind of human beings we would meet in real life, but as symbols of the values we revere. Each of us has to make choices between the “light side” and the “dark side.” Which character do we want to emulate?

      Have you ever seen the parody of the music video for “Somebody That I Used to Know”? The title is “The Star Wars That I Used to Know,” and it bemoans such changes as no longer allowing Darth Vader to be a purely powerful dark villain. Even though the parody doesn’t emphasize it as much, Luke Skywalker was also not allowed to continue to be a pure hero.

      If the characters are always complex, like us, then we can no longer use their stories to lay out the stark contrast of the choices we face. Yes, the characters’ choices are more literally similar to ours, and that can be very interesting, but they don’t symbolize our choices as powerfully.

      Something to think about!

      Trish O’Connor
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC
      Editorial Services and Writer’s Resources
      epiclesisconsulting.com

      • Marie says:

        This is actually very helpful. Thanks, Trish!

        I’ve been trying to go for a more “realistic” (complicatedly gray, not purely evil) villain, but now that you brought this up…

  • Wendy says:

    Does your character necessarily have to be “evil”?

    “In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong.”
    –Abraham Lincoln

  • I’m a writer, been published, have written articles to be published, for example an article, Heaven or Hell; yet no publisher. Where do I send it?

  • @Trish O’Connor
    That was a deep insight. I believe that unless there’s a strong antagonist in the plot the tale never becomes interesting. That’s why I read this post so keenly. Thanks a lot for your comments.

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