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  • Writer's pictureBriony Rose Smith

Cooking up evil: Building a villain

A while ago on twitter, I saw an interesting thread about balancing your heroes and villains, in terms of morality. Sometimes a villain's good intentions can be convincing enough to make a reader root for them over the hero but, at the same time, making them too evil or their intentions too non-sensical can make a villain cartoony.

It sounded like a really rough situation to be in but made me think about what it is to build a villain for your story.

Let's make an ingredients list for a good Villain:

1 Motive 1 Questionable morals Many evil deeds

So what do we do with these ingredients?

Motive To me, this is the most important part of a villain. In the end, they are the ones that will push the story forward more than the hero. They are the ones running the corrupt government, ordering the attacks, murdering/kidnapping people the hero loves and they need a reason why. For motive to be a reason why your villain is shining more than your hero, there are a few kinds of villains I have to discount right away. So, for the record, we aren't talking about more power-hungry villains that are attempting to keep their power from a rebellious protag or villains that are maybe some kind of alien or god that doesn't share a human morality system. Let's look at arguably good (Good as in intention not as in quality lol) villains. The most famous example I can give is Thanos. Villian in the shadow of 11 years worth of Marvel films had the motive to literally, end world hunger and resource shortages. Ignoring what he actually did for a moment, this is not a bad thing. You can understand how he managed to make loyal allies and, after seeing his world starve, why he would be so motivated by this. What makes us unquestionably seen him as a villain are the two other ingredients.

Questionable Morals To me, a villain's morals should help set them apart from the hero. Their plans will normally be ruthless and lead to many castuaties. What can muddy the water little is having the villain make morally dark choices that ultimately save lives and the hero make morally correct choices that can lead to disaster. I've seen many an internet debate around Batman, for example, and his no-killing rule. Many point out that if he did kill his villains he may have saved the victims of their next crime but if he did he would he be a hero? There have been times when his villains have come in handy to save the city. If he killed them, what would happen? The key for me is that most of what your villain dose should be morally questionable. Their human(I main maybe not but still), and they can do good things but they may choose to do it in a way that can paint them in a bad light. Which brings us to the last ingredient.

Evil Deeds A villain can't be a villain and do everything right. They can have a good motive, make morally grey choices but if they don't do something evil then we will confuse them with the hero. Going back to Thanos, he took his good intentions and decided the best way to achieve it was to go planet by planet and murder half the population. Not quite genocide but straight-up murder in the same numbers. There is no way he can be mistaken as a hero. He may make people think, people may point out his good intentions but to quote Brooklyn 99 'Cool motive, still murder.' If it comes down to it and you just can't seem to get your character to do something evil then it may be that you have an anti-hero on your hands rather than a villain.

Obviously, this doesn't work for every villain. Sometimes the whole point of the story you are writing is who is right and who is wrong, you may be aiming to muddy those waters.

There are also some villains who are evil for the sake of being evil. People tend to say this as a complaint but they can be pretty fun too. Incomprehensible forces of evil have their own appeal.

But, if you're not aiming for those kinds of villains I believe following this recipe will help you create an interesting villain who will hopefully not outshine your hero!


What's your must haves for a good villain? feel free to tell me in the comments

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