How To Liven Up Your Villain Character


February 9, 2017


   Welcome to the third post in my How To Liven Up Your Character series! Here's the villains post you all asked for - click here and here to see the other posts in the series.

   [disclaimer: there is a spoiler in section 3 and section 6 - but I'll warn you about them before you come to them, so that I don't ruin a series for you]


   Villains and antagonists are two highly similar things. I'm not quite clear on the difference myself, but as I see it (and as it has been explained to me) an antagonist is more of an obstacle in the story (Grima Wormtounge, Draco Malfoy, etc.) and a villain is the main bad guy in your story (President Snow, Queen Levana, etc.). Hopefully this post will be able to help you with both ;)

1. Clear goals

 

the villain from Lord Of The Rings, Sauron
via Google images
   A villain has to have a clear goal. Without a clear goal, your villain will probably become a fairly dull character. Let's take Sauron from Lord Of The Rings, for example.
   Sauron created the 'One Ring' - a Ring that will give ultimate power to it's wearer. But it was stolen from him, and thus Sauron's clear goal is to get his Ring back so that he can rule once again. His purpose is easy to see, and that makes it so no one will forget that's he there. It also makes it easier for you to realize what your other character's goals are if you know what the villain's goals are.
   Maybe your villain was also stolen from (whether for the 'good of the world' or just out of spite) and wants to get his or her possessions back. Maybe your villain is a duke or duchess who is tired of playing second-class to the King and Queen, and wants the throne for them self (do be careful with power-hungry villains though, because they easily become cliche). Or maybe your villain is tired of being misjudged for how they look (maybe they're a different race from the other characters?) and so they want to take over the ruling power to show that they are worth something.

2. Activity

 

the villain from Narnia, Jadis the White Witch
via Google images
  A lot of villains that I read about (even very good villains!) tend to be fly-on-the-wall type villains. Their henchmen are the ones that do all the work and get all the words. The villain is the mastermind, but won't put himself into danger (*raises hand because I am guilty of creating villains like this*).
   But villains tend to be more interesting if they throw themselves into the fray, too. A good villain won't sit back and yell at his minions when they get things wrong (this always annoys me. Why trust your mission to someone else and then get mad when they don't do it how you wanted it? Just do it yourself, please and thank you) - a good villain will be right in the middle of the action, making sure no one forgets about him. Let's take Queen Jadis, the White Witch from The Chronicles Of Narnia, for instance. While she does send other people to do her work sometimes, she's often in the middle of it (or the head of it!) herself. When she goes to tell Aslan that Edmund is to die, she goes herself. When the climax battle comes, she's the one leading it.
   Your villain doesn't need to sit behind a wall of safety and always send minions to do the dirty work - it's cliche, and a little annoying. Maybe start brainstorming on where you can give the villain (instead of a henchman) more attention in your story.  

3. Explain why they became the villain (backstory)

  
an antagonist from Harry Potter, Narcissa Malfoy
via Google images
Maybe you don't want to make your readers hate your villain with all the rage of twenty-five fiery stars - maybe you want readers to feel pity for him (or vice-versa). This isn't hard to do with a good backstory.
   Let's take Narcissa Malfoy from the Harry Potter series, for instance. She wasn't one of the main villains, such as Voldemort, but she was definitely an antagonist on the wrong side. You can't help but be mad at her (mostly because she's a Malfoy) - but then J.K. Rowling also shows us another side to her - she shows us how attached to her family Narcissa is, and how she's trying to protect them. The reasons she went to the wrong side is because she thinks she can protect her husband and son. And in the end (spoiler here) she lets Harry go because he tells her that her son, Draco, is still alive. (end of spoiler) Even though she's on the bad side, you can't help but pity her. Or, on the flip side, you can use your hero's backstory to make reader hate the villain even more.  
   Maybe your villain got a taste of power once, and needed more - or maybe they honestly thinks that doing things their way will help the world, even if their ways seem twisted to everyone else. Or perhaps your villain's sibling died because of one of the good guys, and now they want revenge.    

4. Don't stereotype


a villain from Harry Potter, Dolores Umbridge
via
What comes to mind when you think of villains from stories you've read? I bet our visual pictures aren't too far apart. Don't stereotype either your villains looks OR their personality/habits.
   One villain that is not so stereotypical is Professor Umbridge from the Harry Potter series (and here I go breaking my own rules and using two examples from the same series. Oops). She's an incredibly unique villain - she's very short, always dresses in pink, speaks in a very high-pitched, girly voice, and loves kittens. Umbridge is more someone that I would peg as the grandmother-ly character - but actually, she's way better as a villain who smiles at you sweetly and crushes all your dreams. Basically.  
   Maybe your villain is a younger girl who cries easily. Or maybe they are seriously on the shorter side. Or perhaps they're related to the leader of your main character's revolution? There's tons of super-fun stuff you could play with here.

5. Appearances


   So this point might not be as important as they others, but it's at least worth touching on. Lots of villains have cliche looks, and honestly? It gets old.
   Red eyes, black clothing, menacing voices, and masks are all well and good, but they can be overused. For instance - I've seen too many villains that look a tad too much like the next Voldemort, Saruman, or Darth Vader. Even if your villain's goals and backstory are perfect, I'll give your villain less points if he or she looks like they're trying to be someone else. Be careful to make your villain's appearance different from the norm. However, there are exceptions to the rule. You just have to be careful ;).    
   Maybe your villain is actually a slight girl who doesn't look like she could hurt a fly. Or perhaps your villain is mute? (the reason he is mute could make his or her backstory more interesting, too) Or maybe your villain has two different-colored eyes, and in his race (whatever 'his race' may be) this is looked down upon.

6. Weaknesses


the villain from The Hobbit, Smaug the dragon
via Google images
Every character needs a weakness - villains included. How else would they be defeated, if they don't have a weakness?
   For instance, the dragon Smaug from The Hobbit seemed to be unable to die. His armor-like scales weren't able to be pierced - except by a Black Arrow. This, along with his pride, is his weakness. (spoiler here) He didn't think he could be killed, so he was careless, and ended up being shot. His weaknesses were his downfall, and enabled the good guys to kill him. (end of spoiler)
   Maybe your villain is terrified of the dark - or they can't stand the sight of blood. Perhaps their "power" (whatever it might be) can only be used if they're touching a shadow. Or maybe the sound of a girl screaming can throw them off their guard (maybe it's connected to something that happened in their past?).


    And that ties up this post on villains - I hope you guys learned some useful things! Despite them being evil, I never can help but admire a well-crafted villain ;).

~ Savannah Grace

   What is your villain character's goal? What do they look like? Which type of character would you like to see next in this series?

41 comments :

  1. What a fascinating post, Savannah!! Very helpful indeed!! :D Thank you for writing it!

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    1. Thank you, Morgan! Glad you guys are liking these ;).

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  2. My villain's goal is to get his son back from his kidnapers, little does he know that his son went willingly..

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    1. It sounds like you've created a really interesting villain! I love his goal - great job, Gray! *highfive*

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  3. YAY. I've been waiting for this! :D And it did NOT disappoint. You come up with the most wonderful points!!!

    I used to make the most cliche villains EVER. Ugh. My villain in the Colors of a Dragon Scale series is soooo cliche because I started that series when I was a lot younger. I'm definitely getting better, but I have to watch myself still.

    You're so right in the fact that villains are bad about not being active. What I hate is when villains are constantly killing their minions. It's like, don't you NEED an army? Stop killing everyone that works for you!

    I love, love, looove your ideas of not stereotyping--personality and appearance. Such as the villain being a young girl. Too fun!

    This post is spectacular and one I will DEFINITELY keep in mind when I'm creating my villains. Thank you so much, Savannah!

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    1. THANK YOU, CHRISTINE! So glad that you liked this xD.

      Oh good gracious - don't get me started on villains I wrote when I was younger. Eleven-year-old-me tended to write about evil, talking horse villains xD. And OH MY, I love Cael (he's a villain in COADS, unless my memory is failing me. Which it very well could be xD), just saying.

      OH YES, I definitely agree that the villains who always kill their minions are very annoying. How are they going to raise an army if the kill all their soldiers? *shakes head* Trained armies don't grow on trees xD.

      Thank you so much, Christine! <3 Glad this was helpful to you!

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  4. Oh my gosh! I love the Smaug and Sauron references!
    I've been REALLY looking forward to this post, so I got SO excited when I saw it. I literally checked your blog every few hours to see. Haha! xD You don't disappoint! This is really gonna help me with my book!
    I've only just started writing, so I haven't decided entirely on how the villain is gonna look. Like I said, this post is REALLY gonna help!
    Thank you so much for the awesome tips! I can't wait for the next post! xD

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    1. Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit are epic <3

      I'm so glad you were excited for this, GJE! Your enthusiasm makes me want to do posts like this more often :D.

      It's awesome that this is going to help you with your book! If you ever want some pointers (or my random ramblings xD) on a certain kind of character, let me know, and I'll see if I can fit it into the series ;). Thanks for reading!

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    2. Totally! xD (I also like the President Snow reference. ;D)
      Your posts have bee SO HELPFUL. (+encouraging)
      Ooh! Alrighty! I'll be thinking... *smiles gleefully* xD

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  5. These are really good points! I need to work a little bit on my villains. ;)

    For the most part, I haven't thought all the details out for my bad guy. But he definitely wants the throne. I feel like I need a little more to his goal though. :{

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    1. Villains are fun to work on ;).

      Yup - it's a good idea to give your villain a REASON to want the throne. I'm curious to see what you decide to do!

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  6. Great post! I don't really have a villain in my current WIPs, but I'm thinking about doing a fantasy, and these tips are really helpful! =)

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    1. Thank you, Micaiah! Ooh, a fantasy? That would be SO cool - I'd love to see what you'd do with a fantasy book! *nodnod*

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  7. This is a good post, Savannah!
    Do you think you will do a post on the 'turncoat' character type? Turncoats may be villains of a sort, but I feel as if they deserve their own category.

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    1. Thank you, Blue! I haven't yet decided whether I'll do a post on turncoat characters - would you guys want me to do a post on characters going from the good side to the bad side, or vice versa (or both)? I'm thinking the next post might be on secondary (minor) characters, but I could see if I'm able to fit turncoat characters in sometimes after that ;).

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    2. If you feel like it, I think covering both would be a good idea.
      Looking forward to the secondary character post!

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  8. You have such great points! I always love creating my villains and antagonists, but sometimes with motive I can get a little bit tired of the same thing. But although they might all have to choose one of, like, four things (revenge, power, etc) to want, you can still make a unique villain by incorporating all of the things you were saying! :D I loved all the ideas you gave, it really got my mind thinking!
    -Emma-

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    1. Thank you, Emma! Villains and antagonists can be some of the funnest character to create ;). And I do agree that, while there tends to be a small amount of major villain goals to choose from, you can still mix it up. Glad this got you thinking! :D

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  9. Oooh, GREAT post, girl! You've got good insight into all this! (hey, what post are you planning on doing next in this series...?)
    -Ariel

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    1. Thank ya, Ariel! I'm thinking on doing secondary characters next ;).

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  10. I LOVE THIS!!! It's on my "writers bucket list" to make some better villains this year, and your advice is wonderful! Especially about knowing why the villain is the villain. Backstories are super fun!

    Great post! :D

    audrey caylin

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    1. Thank you so much, Audrey! :D It's so cool that creating better villains is on your writerly list this year - I should make a list like that ;). Backstories are one of my favorite things about villains! They're both fun to write and read. Thanks for reading! <3

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  11. Yay, it's finally here!! :D *gobbles it up*
    These are all such GREAT tips! I definitely try to stay away from clichés, but...I'm kinda guilty of writing fly-on-the-wall villains... XD
    I actually really like finding weaknesses for my villains. It seems to make them just a bit more human. I like to be able to relate to them even just a little bit. (Usually, most of my villain characters tend to turn themselves around because I just can't help myself. I pity them. XD)

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    1. Thank you so much, Madeline! :D I'm also pretty guilty of writing fly-on-the-wall villains - half of my villains are like that xD. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but it's definitely something I should work on xD.

      Oh good gracious, it's not just me? Half of my villains tend to turn around, too! I can't help myself, it would seem xD. *highfives*

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  12. This was such a good post! I love villains!

    -Savvy

    horseinthehood.blogspot.com

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    1. Glad you liked it, Savvy! It was fun to write :D.

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  13. Hey there!! For Project Canvas, you said the best way to reach you was your beautiful blog, so here I am! We're only do one topic per person for now, but I'm sad to say that the "Making Characters Come Alive" topic has already been taken! :( The Brainstorming or Why I Write topics would be great though, if you'd like to do one of those. :) Just let me know. Also, would you be interested in posting about Project Canvas on your blog?
    (PS VILLAINS ARE THE BEST AND THIS IS A GREAT POST.)

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    1. Hey, Caroline! That's perfectly fine - I can easily find another topic to write about. I'll fill out another form for a different topic ;). And I'm definitely interested in posting about Project Canvas on my blog! Do you mind if I email you about that?
      (THANK YOU SO MUCH YOU'RE THE BEST <3)

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    2. Yikes this never gave me a notification! But I got the new form and Backstory sounds perfect! Also, please do email me about a blog post. :) caroline.d.meek@gmail.com

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    3. Backstory works? Awesome! I'll start writing that - and I'll definitely email you about posting stuff for Project Canvas.

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  14. Sorry it took me so insanely long to comment on this, I read it a while ago. . . My life has been crazy. :-/
    Great job on this post! Very interesting. . . I loved your ideas, but thinking it over, I'm realizing I might kinda' like cliche villains. I'm weird that way.
    About them having clear goals and weaknesses though, I hear ya! And backstories--no one just decides to be evil and wreck everyone's lives, they have to have reasons.

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    1. That's fine, Hanna! I'm glad you like the post :). Certain cliche villains are fun - but I mostly just like the cliche villains that STARTED the cliche (as in Darth Vader. I would say he's started a ton of cliches among villains xD).

      I LOVE character backstories, they're some of my favorite things. Thanks for reading, friend!

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    2. Yeah, Darth Vader's cool. I loved how dark and oppressive they were able to make him feel, without taking the darkness TOO far. I've seen a lot of stories go down trying to make the villain evil enough--they focus on the villain too much, and the story becomes dark and gruesome.

      I also thought Kylo Ren (The Force Awakens) was super cool. He's a lot like Vader, but they realized that and just embraced it, and portrayed Kylo Ren as admiring and following him. I'm super excited (and almost a little nervous?) to see where they take their new villain in future Star Wars movies!

      YES, backstories portray so much of a character! I love them.
      Which is why I CAN'T WAIT to read Cerulean's! (hint, hint. . .)

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    3. Yup - they did AWESOME with Darth Vader. And while the directors really didn't need to make Kylo Ren a little mini-Vader, I am kinda glad they just put it out there instead of hoping to pull the wool over people's eyes about how they were doing the same thing twice. It wouldn't have worked, anyways xD.

      Haha ... you'll have to swap me snippets of YOUR story if you want any more of Cerulean's! ;) Glad you're so interested in reading it!

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  15. Awesome post!
    *adds notes for my villian* my big thing that changed, is that my antagonist is now a female. It definitely was needed, as it brought more plot twists for later on.
    Loving these posts!

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    1. Thanks you, Soleil! I'm really glad this was helpful - and I'm SUPER curious to read more about Changeling's villain ;).
      Thanks, twin! :D

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  16. Yay! It's here! Keep it up!

    I have probably way too many villains. But I spread them out, about two to a book, then they are defeated. In my WIP (first in a trilogy) one villain is more sinister, but one's actually almost nice, and thinks what he's doing is best for these kids. He's also rather nervous (useful for the heroes). The sinister one clears his throat whenever someone says something a little too, well, human.

    One thing I think is important (along with what you said here) is that you don't make your villain out to be a victim. You could have him THINK he's a victim, but isn't. He has to choose evil, you see, like Scrooge does again and again in 'A Christmas Carol'.

    Secondary characters sounds great for the next one! LOVING these posts!

    ~ Gracelyn

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    1. Thank you so much!

      Ooh, your villains sound like they're AMAZING, Gracelyn! You're doing great with them, I'm super intrigued ;). I love how you made them so different from each other!

      Mmm, very good point. I kinda want to smack every villain I come across who thinks he's the victim - unless, of course, the author does a fabulous job of it ;).

      THANK YOU! You guys are all such awesome encouragement :).

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