Sunday, January 11, 2015

How to Write a "Good" Bad Guy (A post all about Villains!)

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What do Darth Vader, Norman Bates, and the Wicked Witch of the West all have in common?

They, of course, are the villains in their particular stories. We all remember them, but why? What is it about their particular characters makes them memorable?

I love writing villains. I think they are one of the best parts of writing, only I like to write a villain who doesn't think he is the villain.

Let me explain...

Let's take Darth Vader...

Just a guy trying to protect his wife


Norman Bates

Just a guy who loves his mother


Wicked Witch of the West

A woman who just wants her shoes back


They are all compelling. They aren't 'bad' in the sense of being horrible or evil {well, maybe the wicked witch}, but their circumstances make them SEEM bad.

Let's keep going.
David from The Lost Boys

Just wants a family


Magneto (Xmen)
20th century fox

Fights for equality (and actually in Days of Future past, the future he predicts is the future that happens so he's actually right and SO THERE Charles... ummm... sorry)

And let's not forget every writers' favorite villain...


Personally, I love villains who-- if you wrote the story from THEIR point of view-- would be/could be the hero.

Magneto wants equality and will do anything for it. {a heroic trait}
Darth Vader is so scared he'll hurt his wife that he literally kills her. {maybe not heroic, but he does want to protect her. Protecting the ones we love... very much a "good guy" quality.}

Of course, there are some villains who are just evil for the sake of being evil and mean-- or even to gain power.

Scar from The Lion King
Cruella from 101 Dalmations
Jafar from Aladdin 

I have written both kinds of villains. 
*Kendra from BIG is BEAUTIFUL was just mean. I'm sure she had her insecurities, but mainly, she was just a bully who liked to pick on Brittany for fun.

*Mr. Dodsworth in Betraying Ever After believes he is the hero. He thinks he deserves to do everything he's done and will do anything to get what he feels he is owed. You can really see that in Cloaked in Red in the Forbidden box set. If you ever want to read a bad guy who is really bad, but believes he's the good guy-- read that book!

What that in mind, here are my
Top 6 ways to write a compelling villain:

1) Make him more than "one note" Most people aren't mean overnight. Give him/her a reason. A personality. Layers.

2) Understand what made him/her the bad guy in the first place? What is his relationship to you protagonist?

3) Write a paragraph/short story based on your villains point of view. Or rewrite a scene you already have, but flip the pov. Why is your villain doing what he/she is doing? They always say there are two sides to the same story. Can you understand your villain's motivation?

4) Be careful of cliches. *insert mustache twirl*

5) Give him a motive-- make him passionate about his motive. Okay, so he wants to blow up the moon... why?

6) Avoid "Scooby-Doo"-- villains who always tell how/why they did what they did at the end. That can take away from your book and some of your suspense. How can you avoid that in your book?  How can you sprinkle in little clues throughout?

Who is your favorite villain? Is it someone who is flat out 'evil' or is someone who has a complex back story and who thinks he/she is the good guy? Let me know in the comments. 

I love hearing from you! To prove it, every comment I get in January will go into a hat. One person will be randomly chosen to win either a 1st chapter critique from me (no grammar edits. Just content) OR a free meme made especially for you.


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  1. A great examination of villains! I love how you pointed out the villains' goals; after all, few people really are just evil for the sake of evil, and it often seems like a copout when a character is made that way. (Though, you know, that cliched mustache twirl does have its fun moments... :-D)

    1. This is true! Mustache twirling definitely has it's time to shine (I'm thinking about the movie TOMBSTONE for some reason ;) )