SPOILER ALERT: This post contains spoilers for the novel, After Anna and the television shows, Doctor Who and Pretty Little Liars.
Villains. We love to hate them. Nothing makes a story compelling like a well-crafted villain. Yet, it is possible to make a few mistakes and leave your villain falling flat. Nothing makes your antagonist mind-numbingly boring like making him or her a stereotypical evil-doer with no clear motivations or unique characteristics. To prevent you from writing dull villains, I’ve created five ways to create gripping baddies for your story.
Make Them Unexpected
The thriller novel, After Anna, by Alex Lake is about a little girl who is kidnapped and mysteriously returned unharmed. The first section of each chapter is written from the kidnapper’s point of view before returning to how the parents are handling the situation. In the end, we find out that it was the Anna’s grandmother who took the Anna to make it seem like her daughter-in-law was an unfit mother. This was totally unexpected for many reasons.
First off, kidnappers of little children are mainly stereotyped as men who have intentions to seriously harm the child. But having a villain that is both a woman and an elderly relative was a surprise. Plus, her motivations of the kidnapping were unique. When writing your villain, challenge the tropes that you’ve seen in your genre and play with your audience’s expectations.
Make Them Have Great Powers and Limitations
The Weeping Angels from Doctor Who are considered one of the best villains of all time; partly due to their creepy appearance and partly due to the interesting powers and limitations these beings have. The Angels are “quantum locked” meaning if you look at them they can’t move causing them to look like stone statues of angels. When you take your eyes off of them, however, they rush up on you and send you several years into the past so they can live off of the energy your life in the present would have generated.
One of the things I like most about these Weeping Angels is that the rules around their powers are unique. They don’t want to hurt you just because they are evil, they need your energy to survive. Plus, running into them is a fate worse than death as you won’t know anyone in the past and may not know how to survive in that time period.
Yet, these stone-faced villains’ powers are turned against them and ends up being their biggest limitation. The Angels are manipulated into looking at each other meaning they are stuck there for the rest of eternity. In a world of countless movies and books where the villains are faceless aliens from outer space vowing to destroy the earth for no good reason, the Weeping Angels really do break the mold.
Don’t Let Them Be A Total Mystery
Some stories require your antagonist to be hidden from sight and remain a mystery until the end of the story. When done right, the protagonists will feel the villain’s presence with them even if they can’t see the villain with their own eyes. Yet, the antagonist won’t be so mysterious that they seem like a boring caricature of evil. Even from a distance, these villains give the readers a way to get a sense of the mysterious evil doer’s personality.
The book series and television show, Pretty Little Liars, kept fans in the dark for years about the identity for the main villain. In the beginning of both the book and the television show, four girls are tormented via text messages by a mysterious person only identified by the letter A. Even though it took many books and countless episodes for the evil-doer to be revealed, the reader and the characters could feel A’s presence through the story without ever meeting the person behind the hoodie.
Use The Bad In You
No one likes to admit it but everyone has selfish and even malicious impulses from time to time. You may be a nice person almost every day of the week but as soon as someone cuts you off in traffic your blood begins to boil and suddenly you want to fight the other driver. These flashes of rage are usually over within a few seconds but they show you that you can still tap into your deep animalistic urges.
To follow the old adage of “write what you know,” find a flaw in yourself that you could easily draw on when writing your villain. Do you get angry too quickly? Are you often jealous of others’ success? Do you get a rush for stealing things? Take anything you don’t like about yourself and put it in your villain to make the character more realistic. Plus, using your own experience to write the antagonist prevents you from making the character too evil and too one dimensional. If you aren’t empathizing with your antagonist, chances are his or her character will fall flat.
Don’t Over Do The Backstory
Now, on the other side of that coin, you don’t want to over empathize with you’re the bad guy. You want to feel connected enough to your main baddie that you can write a realistic character with believable motivations without feeling sorry for him or her. Giving your villain too much of a backstory can take away the fear, suspense and tension when your protagonist must face the villain. If your audience knows your antagonist is being awful because he is upset over the death of his children, they are less likely to be afraid of him and more likely to root for him to win. There is nothing wrong with giving your villain context but don’t let it distract from the protagonist or take away from the villain’s fear-inducing mystique.
I hope you anow have a few ideas for crafting some great villains! Stay tuned for my next post on Dialogue coming out on August 14th. Best of luck in your writing adventures!
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