Your hero is only as good as your villain.

How to write a super bad guy… or girl. 

You’ve developed your hero, plotted out his/her motivation, created the backstory, their interests, their principles, attitude, values, quirks… the list goes on. They work perfectly for the world that you have created in your story, but still something isn’t right. The story feels flat. Something is… missing. 

Answer: The villain.

Many writers focus their full attention on the hero. They worship them. And that’s understandable. The hero saves the day and is the central focus of the story. But in no way is this person the most important character. Your villain is just as vital. Heroes need worthy opponents, and without a well-developed villain with their own backstory, mind-set, purpose, and ideals, the hero faces no obstacle or challenge. If you want your story to work, you need to spend time crafting your villain. 

So how do you create a memorable bad guy/girl? How do you create someone who is super evil and seems unbeatable? Or are they?

Follow the five tips below to get started. 

Understand who your villain is.
Your bad guy or girl needs a reason to be the way they are. They can’t just wake up one morning and decide to be bad. They simply can’t do evil things because they’re the evil guy in the story. If you do this, your villain will come across as cliché and your story will fail to be engaging. 

Your villain needs backstory. They are complex characters who have lost their way. Try to think about what has happened to them in the past? What’s hurt them, what’s offended them, what’s crushed the good from their soul? Because the truth is, villains are characters who have had something terrible happen to them, and you as the writer need to know what that is. 

Let’s look at this scenario. Imagine a man who loses his entire family in a car accident. He’s broken, vulnerable, angry, lost. What made him the kind, loving husband and devoted father died in the accident with his family. He grows angry and bitter with the world. He hates seeing happy families and can’t control the spiral of jealousy that occurs. He’s unstable, impulsive, and is willing to do anything to get his family back. 

See what we have done. We’ve created a character with a background that is tragic. Readers will empathise with him, but are also afraid of where his new ‘journey toward the dark’ may lead.

What is the motivation and goal?
Motivation and goal are closely linked. Now let’s imagine that this man learns he can change the past through supernatural means, but in order to save his family, he must choose another to take their place. He has to find human sacrifices, and he is so unhinged, he’s willing to do this at any cost.

The motivation is to get his family back. 
The goal is to find another family to sacrifice. 

Make the conflict specific to your hero.
Our villain will stop at nothing to get what he wants. In his deranged state, he is merciless to innocents and believes he deserves his family to be returned to him. He’s found his victims—the hero’s family. Remember readers want great conflict. To make sure their invested in the story, your hero and villain need to confront each other over something that is specific and targeted to both of them. In this case, they are both trying to save their families. 

Make the villain unbeatable. 
No reader enjoys putting in time and investing in a story, only to learn there is no confrontation and no obstacle. The hero’s journey has to be difficult and near-on impossible to achieve. To create this, the villain must appear unbeatable. Remember how we decided the villain in our story discovers he can resurrect his family through supernatural means? What if that same supernatural power has made him indestructible? Our hero is facing a huge challenge now. The villain has placed an obstacle before our hero that seems insurmountable. How is the hero going to stop/kill a bad guy who has supernatural ability?

What likeable qualities does your villain have?
Yes, they’re the bad guy, but they have to possess likeable qualities too. In fiction, villains have to be multidimensional, complex, and have redeeming qualities that cause readers to feel sorry for them, or make them seem a little less evil. Readers need to empathise and connect with the villain to heighten the intensity of the story and to keep them guessing on where the plot will take them next. 

So what redeeming qualities can a villain have? Well, let’s think about our workshopped villain. He loves his family and was once a devoted husband and father. So in this case, love is the redeeming quality. 

Other ideas to make our villains likeable—and by likeable, we mean something that makes the reader empathise with the villain. 

– Humour and sarcasm to hide emotion.
– Flaws that make the villain human.
– A belief or moral that is good, but achieved through unethical means. 
– A strength and weakness opposing each other in the character’s mind.
– An internal struggle between good and evil.
– A tragic past. 
– Fear and loneliness.
– A strong belief that what they are doing is for the right reasons.

Remember, your villain needs a spotlight on them too. They need just as much love, devotion, and time spent on them as your hero does, because without a great villain, your story will lack conflict, pace, and tension. So start plotting ideas and begin channelling your dark side. You have a villain to create.