When creating a villain, someone who opposes your character in some way, it can be tempting to create a one dimensional flimsy character. The problem is weak villains aren’t that interesting nor are they motivated to make your characters’ lives really tough. You want a villain that’s going to bring a serious amount of pain into the story.
While I haven’t perfected my evil laugh yet, I have learned a few things about creating villains that have helped me craft more life like bad guys.
I started by identifying why my villain wanted to hurt my characters. A great villain always needs a strong motivation. It could be jealousy, greed, a desire for power, or any number of things. If the motivation isn’t strong, you just have a weak bad guy who doesn’t really add much to the story.
If you’re having trouble, think of your own dark emotions. While most of us will never go to the extreme lengths our villains will, the truth is we’ve all felt rage, a desire for power, a need for control, jealousy and many other emotions.
Think of Voldemort. If he hadn’t been so power hungry, he wouldn’t have been a good villain. He wanted full control over the magic world and he wouldn’t rest until he succeeded.
Villains believe they’re doing the right thing. In his own twisted way, what Voldemort does makes sense to him. He doesn’t view his action as evil but views the violence he uses as justified. He’s seeking power to control the wizarding world and eliminate muggles.
After looking to motivation, I consider my villain’s past. Even your most despicable character has a first love, a favorite teacher, and a few embarrassing moments they wish had never happened.
Most of the time, what I learn about my villain’s past never makes it into my book but the knowing their history allows me to write more comfortably in their perspective.
Voldemort was abandoned by his father and his mother died shortly after giving birth to him. This adds depth to his character and we can even feel compassion for him because of this.
By discovering your villain’s motivation and developing a compelling past, you can write bad guys that have your readers turning the pages eagerly. Just make sure to include that evil laugh!
Debra Weiss, editor of Today’s Teen Writer, is a freelance writer living on the East Coast. When she’s not at her desk, she can usually be found at her local Wal-Mart, searching for the perfect notebook.