5 Tips for Creating Believable Villains

5 Tips for Creating Believable Villains

By on Jun 20, 2016 in Fiction, Writing & Editing


A villain is the wicked, bad guy and can appear in any story, regardless of genre. Often, a villain can wear the face of the antagonist in the story – and in the best stories, the villain and the antagonist have been melded together to create an antagonist that is difficult to defeat. However, while the villain is always an antagonist, an antagonist is someone who opposes the protagonist, and they don’t have to necessarily be against each other. The antagonist can oppose the protagonist, and still help them to achieve the goal, defeat the enemy and win. On the other hand, a villain is evil, wicked, a character the readers love to hate. In order to inspire such an emotion in your readers, you will need to create a villain that is believable. An evil villain who is evil just for the sake of being evil is the opposite of believable, and a character like that is only a caricature without substance. Below, you will find several tips that will help you add credibility to your villains, which will help you create stories rich with conflict and suspense.

1. Give the villain a face

Occasionally, in stories, what stands on the opposite side of the protagonist is not another person, but a force: nature, a corporation, famine, war, etc. A force, however, doesn’t have a face, and as such, it’s difficult for the readers to connect with it. It is there, and the protagonist will not be able to win against this force – only keep it at bay. Of course, this doesn’t diminish the value of a story, but it changes the nature of the story. However, war, for example, can be represented by a person, a protagonist of war, who will, in turn, become the antagonist of the story. It gives the protagonist an opponent with a face – and as such, creates the possibility that the antagonist, or the villain, will be defeated.

2. A solid backstory

Once the villain has a face, he or she needs a backstory as detailed and as complete as the protagonist’s. The villain’s backstory doesn’t need to be revealed word per word to the readers – but shown in bits and pieces. The villain wasn’t always a villain. He might have been a good person, or maybe there were seeds of evil in him. Remember, the villain was also a child once, and maybe has a family when the story begins. What the backstory needs to show is how he became evil – what was the cause? And if there isn’t a specific reason why he is evil, maybe it was a multitude of reasons and things that happened to the villain, cumulating over time to create a person with a warped view of the world.

3. Make them human

Like we stated above, the villain might have a family. A villain who is simply just evil is not believable. The villain might be a protector who protects loved ones, but goes about it all wrong. The villain will hurt the protagonist, and his or her friends and family, but that doesn’t mean that the villain is without emotions. When you show that the villain is just as human as the protagonist, you make him sympathetic. The readers will be able to understand the villain, the reasons why he does all the evil things in the story, and maybe even feel pity towards the villain.

4. Create motivation

In order to create motivation for the evil villain, you need to think of the villain as the protagonist of the story in his own mind. Remember, a good villain is just as developed a character as the protagonist. When the villain is motivated, by his past, his beliefs and ideals, he will always be able to justify his own actions logically. It is part of what creates the villain’s warped view of the world, good and bad, and what makes him evil in the eyes of both the protagonist and the readers.

5. Give the villain an agenda

The final element that a good villain needs – an agenda, or a goal. The villain’s goal shouldn’t be kill the protagonist, unless there is a good reason for it. The villain’s goal is what makes the villain an antagonist – his goal is the polar opposite of the protagonist’s goal. For example, a villain that wants to destroy the world just because he is evil, while the protagonist races against time to save it, is not a believable villain. The villain does not envoke empathy in the protagonist, and as such he is easy to defeat. The protagonist will feel no emotion towards him other than resent and hate. But a good villain might try to save the world – in a different way that goes against the protagonist beliefs and ethical principles. In this situation, both the villain and the protagonist have the same goal, but they go about it differently, and that’s what’s causing the conflict between them. But they understand each other, and the protagonist will feel other emotions towards the villain – thus, even the possibility of defeating and hurting the villain becomes part of the protagonist’s inner conflict.

Image credit: Pixabay

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.


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