Happy Friday and happy August, everyone! Hope you’re all doing okay so far. We’re making the most of our time at home and trying to enjoy what’s left of the summer. Book One edits are coming along slowly, but steadily. I’ve made some decent progress this past month and I couldn’t be happier. The more I polish this book, the more I fall in love with it. But I’m not going to get into all that today.
Today, I’m going to cover another hot topic – villains. I’m going to talk about character development, my pet peeves, and the types of baddies I love, along with some of my favorite on-screen villains. This blog is going to be a bit different from my usual blogs, so get those drinks and let’s get started.
All About the Antagonists
Every story should have an antagonist or some kind of opposing force that keeps the main character(s) from achieving their goals and getting what they want. The opposing force doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical being. It can be nature, an animal, illness, society, weather, or even the protagonist themselves (inner demons). In many stories, the main character(s) have some inner demons to battle along with some kind of external force. For today, I’m strictly sticking with the physical antagonists.
As a writer, you should put as much thought into developing your antagonist as you do your protagonist. The villain plays a major role in the story. They’re one of the main obstacles that are standing in the way of the MC (main character) getting what they want. You don’t want to just half-ass these baddies when it comes to development.
One of the biggest problems I see as a reader are weak antagonists with no real motivations or goals – except to kill the MC, for no good reason other than just blind hatred. This comes from a lack of character development and tossing in a villain just for the hell of it. This kind of shit makes me want to bang my head against the wall.
Villains should be fully fleshed out – just like their main counterparts. That means backstory, motives, reasons for their behaviors and actions, along with negative and positive traits. Yes, you read that right – positive traits. Newsflash, villains can have positive traits while still being diabolical as fuck. When a writer says their villain has no positive traits, it tells me that: a) their antagonist is underdeveloped, b) their villain is weak and easily defeated, c) they equate positive traits with being good, or d) all of the above.
Positive Traits and Why Villains Should Have Them
Writers will give their main characters negative traits to make them more relatable. So, why wouldn’t a writer do the opposite for the antagonist? Some writers will answer by saying that they don’t want the audience to sympathize with the villain. They want readers to root for the protagonist. And I get that, but by not giving the villain any positive traits, writers are doing readers a huge disservice.
Most readers don’t like weak villains who are easily defeated, just like most readers don’t like perfect protagonists with perfect lives. There’s no real story, there’s no tension or conflict. By giving the villain some positive traits, you’re turning them into a formidable opponent. Think about it.
Positive traits do not have to equate with being good. You don’t have to be kind and empathetic to be smart and ambitious. You don’t have to be tolerant and gentle to be charismatic and confident. You can be cruel and cunning while still being determined and strategic.
My point is, antagonists do not need to have good intentions to have positive traits. Villains can use their positive qualities to do some really evil shit and give the protagonist one hell of a fight. So if you’re a writer, don’t skimp on the positive traits.
Villains Need A Purpose
Remember when I said characters are people moving on the page with a purpose? That includes the antagonist. Just like the main characters, villains need to have goals and wants. And just like the main character, there needs to be a reason for those goals and wants. Everyone has a history, everyone has a purpose, and everyone has a reason for their behaviors and actions. Villains are people, meaning they should have a good reason for doing the shitty things they do. Hating the MC alone is not a good enough reason. Being evil is also not a good enough reason. Why are they evil? What made them that way? Why do they hate the protagonist so much? Do they have some sort of history? What happened?
This is where backstory can help answer some of those questions and figure out the driving force behind the antagonist’s behaviors and motives. Now, this doesn’t mean that writers should include the villain’s entire history in their story. No one likes info dumps, but they should provide just enough background so that readers get some kind of sense of why the villain is the diabolical shithead that he is.
I have so many pet peeves when it comes to villains, but I think the one that irks me the most is when villains are used as a tool to make the main character look like a heroic badass. These villains are often one-dimensional cardboard cutouts. They’re the types who want to destroy the MC along with the rest of the world just because they’re evil. Evil is their default setting and the author’s answer for everything when it comes to the villain’s motives.
The author might even hype these villains up, give them a lengthy criminal history, and talk about what a mortal threat they are to the protagonist and humankind. They’re going to make you hate this baddie by having them commit some of the most atrocious acts, just to show you how evil this villain really is.
But, usually it’s just all talk and all hype, because when it comes to the final fight, the author often fails to deliver. Many times, I’ll see this overhyped baddie get his ass kicked to kingdom come, while the protagonist barely breaks a sweat. In fact, the whole fight is over in under thirty seconds flat, leaving the reader feeling cheated.
If you want to make your main character look like a badass, give them an equally matched, badass opponent. Don’t give them some weak, one-dimensional prop who’s easily defeated.
Now, that I’ve gotten that little rant off my chest, let’s move on to some of my favorite types of villains.
Favorite Types of Villains
Devil in Disguise (Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing). This villain is all good looks and charisma. They’re powerful, cunning, mysterious, and diabolical. Their outward appearances and charm have most people fooled. They’re a pretty package on the outside, but dark and twisted on the inside. These villains are skilled in the art of deception and manipulation. And when it comes to matchups, they never disappoint, always surprise, and keep everyone on their proverbial toes.
Morally Gray. I love the morally gray types because they’re not wholly evil. They tend to walk a fine line between light and dark, and good and bad. While these baddies have some questionable morals, they still have some semblance of a moral compass. What I love about the morally gray types is that they tend to be a bit of a wild card. You’re never quite sure what you’ll get, what they’ll do, or what lines they’ll cross to get their way. Much like the anti-hero, the anti-villain is a lot of fun to read and write.
The Wild Card. These baddies are wild, unpredictable, and impulsive. They play for one team and one team only – themselves. They’re selfish, cunning, manipulative, and their morals are questionable at best. They don’t care who they piss off or who they have to run over, as long as they get their way. They’ll double cross their own team as long as it ensures their own survival. The wild card is one that will always keep you guessing and will always keep you entertained.
Favorite On-Screen Antagonists
- Klaus Mikaelson (The Vampire Diaries)
- Katherine Pierce/Katerina Petrova (The Vampire Diaries)
- Harley Quinn (DC Comics, Suicide Squad)
- Kai Parker (The Vampire Diaries)
- Loki (Norse mythology, Marvel Comics)
- Lucifer (Supernatural)
- The Evil Queen (Once Upon A Time)
Please note, these opinions are purely subjective and strictly my own.
Who are some of your favorite villains and why? Feel free to hit up the comment section below.
Nick’s character interview snippet has been posted, if you want to check that out under the Extras tab. Karina’s interview snippet will be posted at the end of this month. The next character blog will be either Raichel or Marissa’s on Friday, August 28th. Due to the Labor Day holiday, the next Writing Life Blog won’t be until Friday, September 11th. Until next time, stay safe and stay healthy.