One of the telltale signs of poor writing in fiction is when the characters are not given enough (or the right kind) of development. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in villains – readers are supposed to feel antagonized by the villain, not the writer. When readers start seeing so many holes in characterization that they end up hating the writer instead of the villain, then the story has failed.
If you want to create convincing antagonists for your story, here are 5 things you need to remember:
1. Villains Should Be Flawed
There are exceptions to this tip, as with everything in this list, but in general the best villains are imperfect villains, in the sense that they’re not completely evil. They’re flawed. You have to ensure that readers don’t get the feeling that the antagonist has appeared in the story just to provide conflict. They’re a natural part of the story. They have needs and wants that put them at odds with the protagonist’s.
2. Villains Need to Be Relatable
We’re not saying that villains need to be written in a way that will make readers go “that’s me!” That would be too constricting and there is definitely room for more kinds of villains in fiction. When we say relatable, it means that the readers need to understand the villain’s motivation. They might not agree, but they should never wonder why a character is doing something (except in cases where information is purposely held back from the readers for the purpose of building mystery).
3. Villains Should Have Goals
As mentioned above, characters should never enter the story without any purpose. Villains for their part should have a goal and something that he or she (or it) is working towards. Some would cite The Joker in Batman as a counter, as the character’s actions are frequently portrayed as random and without logic, but the thing about characters like these is that they do have goals: they want to create chaos. Every villain should be working towards something, otherwise we encounter the problem mentioned earlier – readers will feel that a character has been inserted in a story artificially. This is bad for minor characters, but a deal breaker for a major one.
4. Villains Should Have Lives
Like the protagonist of your story, a villain should have a life outside of the main conflict – it’s what will give the story its weight. Villains could have the need to eat, sleep, or nourish. Villains could have friends, family members, minions – things that have no direct relation to the protagonist or things that require the villain’s attention when he or she is not dealing with the protagonist. A villain shouldn’t be antagonizing the hero 24/7.
5. Lastly, Get to Know Your Villains
You need to take the time to know your villain as much as your main character. They’re two sides of the same coin and will share the responsibility of carrying your story. A villain doesn’t have to be an actual person or entity – some stories have natural disasters as the main villain, but they didn’t appear out of nowhere. There is always an explanation as to why they exist, and no – it’s never just “to give the main character something to oppose.”