Writing Hacks: Creating Three-Dimensional Villains

I love stories that showcase the antagonist’s point of view. It gives readers an opportunity to know where they are coming from. Granted, some antagonists are truly twisted people and getting a glimpse into their minds can be disturbing. But, say, in the case of a lot of thrillers or horror stories, this “chill down the spine” effect can be exactly what the author is looking for.

What is a villain? 

An antagonist is anyone who opposes the protagonist’s views. This doesn’t necessarily mean the antagonist is evil. It just means he or she has a different, opposing opinion from the protagonist.

Because of this, the antagonist may get in the hero’s way. They keep them from reaching their goals and serve as a source of conflict.

I love stories that paint antagonists in shades of gray. Every side–the “good” guys or the “bad” guys–can have heroes and villains. It depends on whose point of view you’re following.

The Gundam universe does this very well. Usually, the storyline showcases a large cast of characters on opposing sides, so you get to know what they stand for and why they believe what they do. It makes the shows so much more interesting to watch, since you never really know quite who to root for.

Same with Game of Thrones. George R. R. Martin could have easily made this a story about a bastard son of a northern lord rising to greatness and an exiled princess reclaiming her throne, but he chose to show everyone’s point of view, including the villains. Even Cersei, who is arguably a villain, has one redeeming quality: She fiercely loves her children.

How to paint your antagonists in shades of gray rather than black and white

As a side note, not all villains will have some gray. Some (like Joffrey or Ramsey in Game of Thrones) are psychopaths and really have no redeeming qualities. And that’s okay. Some stories need those characters. You see a lot of these types of villains in horror stories (Pennywise in Stephen King’s It) and thrillers.

However, I think it’s never a bad thing to consider where your antagonist is coming from. Rather than thinking “he’s the bad guy, so he should be evil,” ask yourself if his point of view is wrong? Maybe he’s right about some things and wrong about others? If so, why?

What are some ways you can humanize your villain? Perhaps they had a hard life growing up. Or they believe they are hero and the protagonist the villain. Again, why?

Here are a few key points to help you better develop your antagonists. (Some of this may not apply, especially for supernatural creatures.)

  • What does the antagonist do for a living? How would this profession be viewed by society?
  • What was your antagonist’s childhood like? Was it happy or sad? How would these events shape your antagonist’s current beliefs?
  • Does your antagonist have a family? How does he or she feel about them?
  • Why does your antagonist oppose your hero? Why does he or she believe the hero is wrong?
  • What does the antagonist stand to lose if the hero wins?
  • What are some of your antagonist’s core values? Does he or she value family above all else? Money? Power?
  • What are your antagonist’s dreams?

I hope this has given you some food for thought when it comes to crafting your villains. Remember, cardboard villains are far less interesting. Give your readers a reason to bite their nails every time they come into contact with an antagonist. They’ll thank you for it later by buying the next book.

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