3 Tips For Writing Convincing Villains

3 Tips For Writing Convincing Villains

Antagonists are an essential aspect of good storytelling. Every narrative needs some sort of obstacle for the protagonist to overcome, and antagonists can provide this obstruction. In fiction, and particularly in fantasy writing, the antagonist often takes the form of a nefarious (what a wonderful word!) villain. Here are three things I like to keep in mind, when I create villains:

#1. Backstory: I’ve discussed the importance of creating backstory for your characters in great depth before here. But its importance cannot be overstated.
The interesting thing about writing fiction is that, unlike in the real world, you can create villains who are just evil. That is, they’re evil just ’cause. It’s an easy way to create a ‘villain’, and for that reason, I prefer not to take this road.
I like to write villains who have motive for their vile behaviour. I don’t think villains just spring up out of thin air, as if ‘evil’ is something you can switch on and off. In my opinion, evil is an organic progression that occurs when a variety of factors congregate to make somebody morally ambiguous. Giving a villain a backstory, an explanation for their awful deeds, doesn’t excuse their behaviour. It helps to create a more complex, and ultimately, believable, character.

Ex: Think Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. I don’t think anyone could reasonably argue that Voldemort wasn’t an awful sadist, but J.K. Rowling wrote very convincingly of his past, and his abused, and neglected childhood. The addition of this information to the narrative is essential. It allows the reader to relate to the villain. It allows them to imagine how it might have been.

#2. Weakness: All well written antagonists have some sort of weakness. Without this weakness they would be invincible. Frankly, I don’t really enjoy reading about protagonists who have no chance at defeating their foes. By giving my villains a weakness (or two, or three!) I allow for the possibility of defeat. This doesn’t mean that that weakness has to be immediately apparent  Far and away the best decision I made when writing Magician’s Mayhem, was in keeping the villain, and thus their weakness, shrouded in mystery until the last few chapters.

Ex: Sticking with our Harry Potter example, Voldemort (rather foolishly), divided his soul into several parts, and stored them in objects of great value to him. He then hid these objects. J.K. Rowling made a villain who had several weakness, and was thus a believable villain, but she wrote only one weakness which could really be exploited by Harry and the gang.

#3. Authenticity: This is good advice for any character, but particularly for villains. I’ve found that some authors use their villains to manipulate the plot of their narrative. This is a serious faux pas, and ultimately does your characters a great disservice. If you write to serve the plot, instead of to serve the characters, then sooner rather than later, you will make your characters act in a way that is contrary to the personality that you have established for them.
This is one of the easiest way to lose your readers. Suspension of disbelief is essential in writing fiction, and any character who acts ‘out of character’ immediately breaks your reader’s willing disbelief.

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