A villain is any character in a story who represents evil and causes harm or conflict. There are various kinds of villains:
Villains are often driven by insecurity and act to further their agendas. Their actions may even be motivated by self-serving motives.
1. Develop a compelling persona.
Your villain must be both believable and compelling to work successfully in any story, which means being three-dimensional with their distinct personality and drive. Additionally, they should articulate their goals and desires without hesitation or limits when pursuing them – like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, driven by his desire to win Belle over, no matter what it takes.
Best villains feature intense inner darkness that matches their outer appearance and behavior, creating an air of menace while making them sympathetic characters – primarily if your villain seeks revenge, like Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter: she wears pink cardigans while collecting plates with kittens, but her words can often be dark and menacing.
Your villains should also be able to justify their evil actions convincingly and authentically so readers feel connected with them while creating more of a threat from them. For instance, if they believe in themselves as righteous extremists, you could show them making charitable donations or championing worthy causes to show this aspect of them as more threatening.
Alternatively, you could create an uncontrolled villain who’s terrifying because no one can stop their unrelenting ruthlessness – even your hero! Perhaps you could write off someone obsessed with their social standing who kills without provocation and may eventually destroy all their foes in one fell swoop.
2. Create a lair.
For any villain to be taken seriously, they need not only a costume and persona but a secure base of operations – meaning a lair, compound, or fortress of evil.
As with any good base, a villain’s lair must offer multiple escape routes. An intelligent villain rarely fights to the death and should have options for retreat or escaping combat before becoming extinct. Therefore, their lair must contain trap doors or other obstacles that divide invaders into smaller groups so the villain can focus their attention on one at a time.
Lairs should contain traps designed to break or destroy equipment, helping defend the villain’s treasure from thugs, heroes, or PC attacks. Furthermore, caves must have ample guards who will patrol and harass intruders using magic spells, regular patrols, or devices that activate only when certain enemies enter their premises.
From Lex Luther’s palace under Grand Central Terminal to Blofeld’s volcano, movie villains’ hideouts can often be striking and extravagant. Lair, published by Tra Publishing, celebrates and explores this architecture through 15 iconic lairs from different movies, illustrations, renderings, photographs, essays, and film analyses from production designers and directors – including production designer interviews! For those wanting to build their criminal base, Lair provides chapters that discuss practicalities such as terrain considerations, defensive magic costs, and budgeting your villainous digs!
4. Become ruthless.
One of the things that makes villains so terrifying is their relentless, seemingly unstoppable behavior. To create an authentically menacing character, try adopting some of these traits into your personality. Start by exploring your moral code and beliefs to understand why you may sometimes engage in unacceptable behaviors. If, for instance, you find it hard to forgive someone for wronging you, this could be due to internalized anger and bitterness. Give your villain an element of humanity by showing that they care even for people they dislike; Raymond Reddington from The Blacklist displays this by his strong obsessive relationship with FBI Agent Elizabeth Keen, adding to his creepiness; however, he would sell out any other individual in need.
5. Explore your motivations.
Your villain doesn’t need to be downright evil; instead, he should have an enticing motive behind what they do. Even the most corrupt individuals will think their actions are justified on some level. Investigate your villain’s backstory for clues as to his motivations; also, his actions must correspond with your story’s overall theme and arc.
The most evocative villains are ones with complexity. They don’t do bad things “just because.” If there is an effective path towards their goal, they take it. Otherwise, they find ways around it or find loopholes.
For example, if your villain is a brutal killer, you must understand their motivation for killing. It could be money-related, powerful feelings, or simply wanting something, which could be reasons someone might seek to kill others.
Villains often have a warped view of reality colored by past trauma and pain. Betrayals, losses, or humiliations leave lasting scars that shape who they become as people.
Most villains exist somewhere on a spectrum of morality, and an excellent writer will show this by showing their character is not all-or-nothing. A realistic villain displays compassion and empathy and occasionally makes mistakes that thwart their mission – just as real people do. This creates more terrifying villains and makes for much better reads – Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby Trilogy by F. Scott Fitzgerald is an example. Eric Shooter from the My Past Lives Series series also demonstrates this dynamic! Without flaws, they would not be believable as threats!