How Does Your Villain Grow?

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary,
How Does Your Villain Grow?
With a demented mind and evil heart
And motivation that readers know.

Okay, so that’s a cheesy poem, but it gets my point across. When creating a villain, keep in mind he can’t just be evil for the sake of being evil. Too cliché. Showing that he’s a psychopath and can’t control his urges is overdone. Readers want more from the villain. They don’t necessarily have to sympathize with him, but they need to understand what makes him do the nasty things he does. Motivation. This doesn’t mean you should dump the villain’s motivation at the beginning of the story, but you should hint at it along the way.

A well-written villain is a character readers love to hate. They want to see the hero and/or heroine beat him. They don’t want a two-dimensional character who kills just to kill or to get an emotional high from slaughtering innocent people. If you’ve ever watched the TV series Criminal Minds, you’ll have an idea of how to portray your villain three-dimensionally. The FBI profilers on this show often talk about triggers. Something happened in the villain’s life that caused him to lose sight of reality and begin his evil path. What prompted the villain to kill isn’t something that would make a normal person become a murderer. There’s still something about the villain that made him snap when others would have possibly struggled but not gone over the edge. It’s up to you to create the background or character history that would grow a villain. His motivation should be strong, clear, and believable but warped.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of sick puppies in the real world who do bad things that we don’t understand. However, in fiction, readers expect more from the villain than a real life psychopath. This isn’t any different than what the reader expects from the hero or heroine. He doesn’t want to read about someone who just walks through life. He wants to see character goals, motivations, conflicts, and resolution. The villain, just like the other main characters in the story, should have his own GMCs. He just won’t be able to resolve his conflict. If all major characters in your story have believable goals, motivations, and conflicts that’s one step closer to making them feel real to the reader. If the reader cheers for the hero/heroine and hates the villain, you’ve done your job.

Who are some of your favorite villains and why?

Lynnette Labelle

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2 Responses to How Does Your Villain Grow?

  1. I want villains who surprise me. I want to love them only to have my heart broken when it’s revealed how despicable they are.

    A book that has stayed with me since middle school is Lord of the Flies. I loved the way Piggy starts as a fairly unlikeable character with his as-mar, idiomatic way of speaking, extreme myopia, and, of course, porcine body. Yet angelic choirboy Jack is the devil of the novel with his ruthless and violent road to Chief. In the end, Piggy’s unfailingly logical voice seems to linger in the air, a hint of how things might have been, even after he’s fallen to his death.

  2. Lynnette Labelle says:

    Maggie: Yes, it’s always nice to see a different side to the villain, too. Maybe he kills women at night while his baby sleeps, but he dotes on his tot during the day. Or maybe he saves a cat from a tree, but robs a bank the next day. Most people, unless they’re truly insane, have a little bit of good in them, at least readers would like to think so. Me, too. Thanks for sharing.

    Lynnette Labelle

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