A villain is important to the plot of many stories. This might be a supernatural entity, or a seemingly average Joe with sociopathic tendencies. Which is right for your story? What will give your readers chills? Is your villain charismatic and charming alongside their evilness, or just downright detestable? And most importantly: how can you write these characters effectively?
Here are 4 tips to keep in mind when creating your villain.
What kind of villain are you portraying?
Is your villain ‘serial killer evil,’ or evil in the sense that they quietly manipulate and slowly destroy everyone around them? Remember, sometimes the most frightening people in our lives are right under our nose. Shakespeare’s Iago, Lionel Shriver’s Kevin Katchadourian, Julia Davies’ Jill Tyrrel; these villains appear charming, kind and relatively typical to the majority of people around them. Is it obvious to your readers that this character is actually a villain or will it be a secret until the very end when their crimes are revealed? Or will only your characters be in the dark, and your reader in the know all along?
Other types of villain make no secret to anybody of their terrible intentions. Think of The Joker. What about him is so successful? Is it the believability of his character or his audacity? Do you want, for lack of a better term, a more ‘in-yer-face’ villain?
Then we have our supernatural villains, such as Anne Rice’s Lestat. Although he is a vampire, he still has many features of the classic villain; charming, manipulative, self-serving, cold, etc. Don’t neglect your villain’s character just because they are not human, or let the ‘supernatural’ label do all the work. They still have to be gripping and effective.
Think about your favourite villains. What can you learn from them?
Who are your favourite villains and why do you love (or indeed, love to hate them) so much? A powerful villain has an effect on the reader like no other type of character. They are memorable, gripping, unpredictable, and have a tendency to haunt you long after you close the book. But why? Think about what it was about your favourite villains that had you so hooked. Was it their smooth, sociopathic charm? Were they so realistic that they made you think twice about some of the people around you? Or did they simply keep you guessing until the very end?
Born this way?
Like with all characters, think about your villain’s motivations. This is not the same as sympathising with them or justifying their actions. Is it an incurable mental illness that makes them behave the way they do? Did they have a troubled or abusive childhood? Did a traumatic event change them and make them evil? Or were they simply born that way? You might want to watch some crime documentaries for help here, particularly ones with a lot of psychology and behavioural analysis. This can help you on your way to building someone very believable and chilling.
And lastly… don’t be shy.
‘I can’t write this, it’s too horrible. People will think I’m sick! Nobody will want to read this!’
Forget about that. People have a natural morbid fascination, and like to be shocked. Why do you think controversial books sell so well? As long as your villain’s abhorrent actions fit with the character and your plot, you’re good to go. Think about it differently:
‘This is really horrible. If it shocks people, it means my work has made an impact, which is what I set out to do.’
Feel better now?
Have fun writing your villain, but don’t forget to take him or her seriously. Ask yourself questions about how realistic he or she is as you go along; make sure you are remaining true to the character you have created. And don’t let them get too far inside your head…