Writing Tips: Writing A Great Villain

Hey guys!  I’m back with another writing tip, FINALLY! I’m really excited about this one, because I’m a little obsessed with villains. When it comes to fiction, I oftentimes find myself favoring the villain over the hero, sometimes because I notice some writers fail to create a well-rounded hero. I will most likely do another post on creating a hero everyone can root for, but for now, let’s give the spotlight to the villains!

Give Them A Reason To Be The Villain

Clearly, a villain needs a reason as to why he opposes the hero. He wouldn’t be a villain if he didn’t have a reason! I think some creators skimp on this and give a sloppy, cliché reason that the villain hates the hero. Sometimes I see the villain hating the hero “just because”. This causes the villain to be extremely flat and is just placed there because the story “needs” a villain.

Is it because the hero took something they loved from them? Maybe the hero is fighting for something that might affect the villain in a way that would be undesirable to them? Shallow reasons, such as the villain and hero simply hating each other, won’t hold up with readers. Here’s an example of a good motive…

Example

Let’s take Ardyn from Final Fantasy 15. If you are knowledgeable about the lore that takes place before the events of the game, then you know that Ardyn was a good person when he was younger. He cared deeply for his people, and many people loved him. He was the rightful heir to his family’s kingdom.

However, his brother, Somnus, stole everything from him, killing the woman Ardyn was going to marry and making himself king. Somnus locked his brother away for thousands of years. It didn’t help matters that Ardyn was also infected with the Starscourge, something that he had been working to heal in his land in the past. Eventually, Ardyn was driven to insanity.

In Final Fantasy 15, Ardyn becomes the villain, and fights with Noctis to take control of the throne. I realized how great of a motive Ardyn had, because the throne truly belonged to him. Not to mention that, Noctis looks exactly like Somnus, and he was attempting to get revenge for everything that had been done to him. Now, sometimes the revenge motive doesn’t work for some people, but it can be used in a way that makes the story that much better. For Final Fantasy 15, I don’t feel like the revenge plot really came through heavy, so I don’t have any strong feelings toward it either way.

Give Them A Backstory

Just like all the others characters, the villains are going to need a past! And lucky for you, this will most likely tie in with their motive! Was your villain orphaned when the hero ended up killing their parents? Maybe the villain actually used to be friends with the hero, but grew to be their rival?

The villain needs a past that will have readers saying, “yes, I can see why you turned out why you did”. A lot of times, the villain’s past is never told, which I find to be a bit sad since a lot of good villains could be made better by fleshing out their story. Everyone has a story, anyway, and the villain’s might be the most interesting of all! Of course, this isn’t always easy to do, especially if your story is from the point-of-view of the hero, like most stories are. This is where it gets easy to make your villain seem flat. Something you could do is to actually tell the villain’s story through the hero, which is actually a pretty cool way to do it. Let’s look at an example…

Example

Surely you knew at some point that I was going to use Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7, right? Well, let’s take a look at him. First off, Sephiroth wasn’t always bad. In fact, he even had two best friends when he worked as a SOLDIER at Shinra. If you’ve played Crisis Core, or at least know of it, you know what I’m talking about. Throughout the narrative of the FF7 lore, we find out that Sephiroth was born to two Shinra scientists. However, he was conceived in hopes that these scientists would be able to perform an experiment on him, which is just cruel. Before he was born, the scientists implanted his still-developing body with Jenova cells, which is a lot to explain and I won’t do it here since this isn’t a FF7 discussion that’s going on here, you know? Anyway, Sephiroth was a pretty normal guy. Powerful, but otherwise normal.

Until Nibelheim, that is. Of course, he had been going through an identity crisis for a bit, but it all came to a climax when a few of the SOLDIERs were sent to Nibelheim, a fictional town in the game. In this town, Sephiroth learned about what the scientists had done to him, and who Jenova was exactly. The revelation ended up driving him mad, and the rest is history.

We learn about Sephiroth’s past even though the story is never from his point-of-view. Through learning of the hero’s past, we in turn learn about the villain’s past.

Give Them A Desire

So now your villain has a motive and a backstory, and this will feed into what they want! This is a very important step, because if the villain’s main goal is obscured, then the whole book would be pretty dull and confusing. I think it is best to lay out the villain’s goal in the most straightforward way possible.

Do they simply want to see the protagonist dead? Do they want to take over the world? If so, why? Perhaps this can be explained by the villain’s backstory? When thinking about what they want, it’s got to make sense with the why. All too often I read stories where the villain wants something, but there was no particular reason other than the fact that they just, you know, wanted it. I feel that if the villain is to have depth, we must have a good reason as to why they want. This goes hand-in-hand with their motive for becoming a villain in the first place! Here’s another example…

Example

One of my all-time favorite villains is Edelgard from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Her character development is just incredible, and she has so much depth to her story! One thing Three Houses does really well is showing us exactly what she wants. Edelgard actually had ten other siblings, and all of them, including herself, were subject to horrible experiments that ultimately led to the death of all of her siblings. The reason for the experimentation was that her parents were hoping to put Crests into their children, something that people usually can only be born with. Crests pretty much define peoples’ social status, and Edelgard rebels against this big time. Can you blame her?

She wants to make the world a better place where people aren’t defined by something they can’t help being born with or without. While she might be bringing about change with questionable actions, her desire is ultimately good. This makes her an anti-villain, which is my favorite type of villain! Edelgard is a good example of a villain who’s desire ties in directly with her motive and backstory.

Give Them Quirks (And A Personality)

This is something that a lot of readers skimp on. To some writers, a villain is something that must be there, so they make up some guy and stick him in there. But readers love a good villain, and part of what makes them so good are their personalities and little quirks!  This kind of goes along with what I will talk about next, but here I want to touch more on what makes them, well, them! What do they like? What do they hate? Do they have any quirks? Let me tell you, these things are oh so important to creating a good villain. These guys aren’t just villains; they’re characters, too! You can use a character trait sheet for them, and it’s a lot of fun! Go wild! Let’s look at this example…

Example

I know I’ve already used a Final Fantasy 7 villain, but the first person who came to mind was Genesis from Crisis Core. Genesis doesn’t start out a villain, and we get to see who he is before he begins to go down the wrong path. He is in SOLDIER alongside Sephiroth, and the two become pretty good friends, despite how different they are.

Genesis is somewhat of a drama king. He has a passion for poetry, and is always quoting his favorite poem/play, Loveless. In fact, whenever we see him in flashbacks he always seems to be carrying around the novel of Loveless, and is even seen reading it out loud to his friends in one cutscene. I think this aspect of Genesis is one of the things that makes him such a lovable character. We know what he loves, and it’s obvious when we see him in cutscenes.

Genesis is also quite rude at times, and he has a hard time following the rules. He likes to do his own thing. He’s the most stubborn out of the trio of friends Crisis Core introduces us to, and certainly the most hot-headed. But it also shows that he cares about his friends, and that gives his journey to villainhood more depth. Before he fully embraces becoming the villain and throughout the game, Crisis Core paints a picture of who Genesis is, and that causes the players to grow attached to him.

Give Them A Heart

Not all villains are cold-hearted and ruthless! While it’s okay for your villain to have those traits, it would make them a flat character for them to only be completely evil. The best villains are the ones who still feel grief, love, and other such emotions. If you think about it, it just makes sense! I find it very hard to read stories where the villains are completely evil. It’s just the same as if you made your hero completely good; they’re going to seem extremely flat and unbelievable. Just like heroes must have flaws, the villains must have redeeming qualities in them! Here’s an example…

Example

Ironically, I’m going to use Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean for this example. If you’ve seen this movie, then you know Jones technically doesn’t have a heart, since he carved it out himself and locked it up in a chest. But it’s WHY he did this that makes him such a compelling villain, and he ultimately became my favorite character in the movie.

Davy Jones ended up falling for Calypso, the goddess of the sea. However, the romance had a tragic ending when the couple ended up betraying each other. The grief of it was too much for Jones to bear, so he ended up carving out his own heart so he didn’t have to feel those emotions anymore.

But why am I using him as a good example for this if he doesn’t have a heart?

Well, throughout the movie, we see that Jones still deals with the aftereffects of his falling out with Calypso. The two appear to regret betraying each other, and he even tells her his heart belongs to her. Davy Jones is a cruel villain, but we see him soften up at times when he thinks of Calypso; either that, or he goes into a rage when his heart is discussed. The fact that the movie shows us his weak moments stands out to me as a good example of a villain who feels emotions.

That’s all the tips I have for today! Writing a great villain is essential, just as writing a great protagonist is! I’m no expert, of course, but I hope these are helpful to you in your writing! Let me know about your villain in the comments below! As always, God bless y’all and have a wonderful week!

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