Have you ever been disappointed in a show or book because the villain is taken down too easily? Or conversely, lost interest because the villain is just too powerful, or to indestructible?
Of course you have, we all have.
In fact just last night I watched the Suicide Squad, which was decent enough to watch but it could’ve been so much better had the villains—the super mega magical beings hell bent on “cleansing” the earth, not the squad of bad guys— been the heroes of their own story. They were merely there to be evil and provide an object for the squad to defeat. They had all this power so us regular human folk couldn’t touch them, but since there wasn’t much justification or rationalization of their evil ways a little fire and a little manipulation was all it took to take them down.
A great villain—a true villain—is a character we love to hate, that we can almost root for while still hoping the hero wins, or if we squint and think real hard we can kind of see where they’re coming from. Some of the most interesting characters are the villains, there is so much room to create this truly terrifying character which in turn creates a bad-ass hero.
So how to we create these intense, gripping, emotionally charged characters?
Easy. Make the villain the hero of their own story. Even if that story never makes it onto paper, it doesn’t matter. The author must still know it. As the author we can never simply say, “Eh, he’s just evil. It’s what he does.” That way of thinking will get you a boring villain and an even weaker hero.
In order to have a great hero with an epic story to tell, the author must first know the villain. Inside and out. We must know what motivates them, how they react to different emotions, what their weakness are and how to exploit them, what their vices are, what habits they have, how they justify themselves, how they rationalize their actions. We even have to be able to see the bigger picture only our villain’s can see.
Once we know our villains better than just about any other character in the book, then—and only then—can we unleash them on our heroes so that those heroes can grip our readers hearts and earn that happily ever after.
So if you’re finding yourself doubting your story, or it just doesn’t seem to pack the punch you intended, take another look at your villain. Take him or her out for coffee, and really listen to their side of the story. And if their story is darker, or grittier, or a little more intense than you realized… tell it that way. Don’t water it down because “it might offend someone” or “it doesn’t meet the social norms.” Simply adjust your hero so they now outshine and outwit the despicable villain.
Bren Kyveli is a stay at home mom of a spirited three year old little girl and a couple of rescued mutts. She’s been happily married to her highschool sweetheart since 2005. She’s had a deep love for the written word since she was a toddler; reading everything she could get her hands on and always writing in a fancy journals with a pretty pens. Bren writes contemporary Romance, Erotica and Drama in the hours left at the end of the day when her house has gone to sleep.