Learning how to create villains is like learning how to find a piece of needle in a soccerfield. But if you sit down with them and listen, they will eventually open up.
Learning how to create villains you love to hate is one of the most fragile things in the writing process. This is one of the most difficult phases among the other character developments I do. Yet, an interesting experience.
Your villains exist because they oppose your main character. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad. They’re just being truthful and realistic.
I learned pretty recently about Jordan Peterson’s “Maps of Meaning” in which he details how someone’s motive morphs into an anti-social act. Yet, for the person concerned, he thinks what he does is right for him. His action roots from his desire for a meaningful life.
Although it’s obnoxious, if it’s his “rightful” prerogative, he pursues. In the same manner, we put ourselves in our character’s disposition and understand the reasons to create an interesting antagonist.
Are you getting me point?
This is why it’s necessary to know how to create villains that compels, draws, influences, and challenges the ideals of your main character. At the same time, they convince your readers to believe them.
Are you ready? Let’s dive into it. Shall we?
What Makes A Villain A Villain?
We instinctively define a villain as a bad person. An evil person who’s nothing else to do except for ruining someone’s life.
It’s more than being an “anti” towards your main character’s goals. Villains can also be gearing towards the common good but your protagonist simply can’t accept it.
Their realistic views about life opposes the idealism of the main character. They do everything in their power to discourage the protagonist execute his plans. For that reason, they appear evil.
If you think about it, this principle applies to real life. We see our friends, who aren’t fans of fluff and bluntly tells your BS, bad.
How Do You Make A Memorable Villains?
To make these characters more believable, memorable, and intimidating, it’s best to understand the psychology of these so-called “evil people.” Morally, we determine people as good and bad based on how they behave and perceive things.
Whenever we watch movies or read stories, we immediately pinpoint, “Ah, this good person is the protagonist and the bad one is the antagonist.”
As a writer, we understand that even the villains in our stories have their own reasons for aggravating the protagonist.
They didn’t become bad just because, although there are some instances they do (if they’re inborn psychopaths, which is yet another case).
Most of the time, they have. It’s their choice of not telling it immediately making them appear as the bad guy.
So, how do we craft these kinds of characters without destroying the essence of our stories?
Honestly, I only have one tip for you, my writing buddy. It’s to get into their minds and ask them to reveal what happened prior to the ongoing antisocial behavior.
Perhaps, they’ve been abused or traumatized by a certain event they couldn’t forget and move on. We don’t know. It’s on us to find that out.
That’s what I did with my character, Monsour, in my book “Accidental Quest.” My readers reacted to how emotionally numb he was. To the point it’s easy for him to pull the trigger and manipulate everyone, including a notorious assassin (his stepdaughter).
1. Use Of Psychology Of Evil People
I dug into a bit of research and came across with Delroy Paulhus’ “Bug-Crushing Experiment” to determine the “Dark Triad” commonly observed from people with dark personalities.
“Why do people take pleasure in cruelty?” Its the basic question in his study.
Why do I emphasize psychology here?
Your goal is to make a believable villain, a phenomenal and unique one. It’s vital to use the science of the mind to execute the writing as properly as possible.
To do that, you need to rely on everyday situations and determining the behaviors of these people is deemed important.
You have to know what’s right and wrong, the good and bad, based on how real people perceive and do it. With that said, psychology comes into place.
Based on Paulhus’ experiment, he determined the “Dark Triad” namely: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.
This means that most people who have a high tendency to do antisocial behaviors are those who are manipulative, grandiose, and emotionally immune to the feelings of others.
This is your clue to crafting your villain.
2. Observe Real-Life Situations
In relation to the previous point, Paulhus’ experiment relied on the common people’s behaviors. Those people we see and meet every day. Not those media-cliched evil people like the psychopaths and the sadists.
If you were to learn how to create villains, you have to make sure they are relatable to your audience.
And to make your nonconforming characters striking with oozing bad vibe, you have to observe the real people around you. The key to creating phenomenal villains is through deep observation.
By sitting on the chair while having a sip of coffee, you can pinpoint those people whatever they do.
You can’t simply think of a villain by doing nothing. You have to seek refuge to reality because it’s where you can find an idea of how the character be like.
3. Generate Villain Motives Using Taxonomy Of Evil People
If you want to go deeper, you can base your villains in accord to the “Taxonomy of Evil People.” The list came from the previous study, which I share with you here for your reference.
Most of the “evil people” are sensitive when it comes to their ego. They’ve been hurt. So, it’s natural for them to set a barrier to protect themselves from getting hurt again. You notice why the villains have to appear powerful against your main character, right?
b. Machiavellianism (cooly manipulative) and psychopathy (callous insensitivity and immunity to feelings of others).
This is commonly observed in sci-fi or psychological thrillers. Figures who portray these kinds of characters include Kevin Spacey and Anthony Hopkins. Notice how they portray and you’ll understand what I’m trying to say.
c. Night-owls (higher tendency over morning people).
When everyone’s asleep, this odd fellow walks along the dark streets preying on someone.
d. The tendency to over-claim to boost their egos.
When a person fails to feel affection as he grows up, he becomes greedy in a sense he wanted to have everything he could possibly have thinking these possessions will fill in the gaps.
That isn’t stoppable even if it costs lives or pains to other people. He doesn’t care as long as he gets what he wants, especially power, fame, and fortune.
e. Environmental factors albeit the inborn traits (abusive childhood, family- or peer-influenced).
Your villain’s backstory can be rooted in how he lives his life prior to the crime, for example. As a writer, it’s your job to know your villain deeper than anyone else. Why did he do that?
And when you find out who he is, it’s your obligation to tell it as properly and smoothly as possible, explaining his behaviors step-by-step.
You’re doing this not because you want him to increase his victims. But to let the readers know his side of the story. Everything must be fair and square by listening to both sides.
f. Everyday sadism component (enjoyment to search people to hurt).
If you create villains you love to hate, it’s a must to understand this part. Your characters have first-hand experiences of the pain and lack at an earlier age maybe.
You see them enjoying when people get hurt to numb their ongoing emotions inside or use as a scapegoat.
g. Muted emotional responses.
They didn’t simply do something against the norm just because. Your “evil” antagonist chose to inflict harm to your main character to forget the painful past. Or, that person reminds him of who he was before and he’s annoyed by it.
He thinks that by seeing someone in pain is the right thing to do. Either to stop the main character or warn him from the upcoming consequences.
Sometimes, villains do that to unconsciously protect the main character from his recklessness.
h. Breath through the emotional numbness.
You don’t know what they’ve gone through their lives and survive the painful situations leading to where they are now. It’s just that your main character tries to block their plans for the common good.
In your villain’s perspective, hurting someone is the best tool to satisfy what’s lacking in their lives. Be it power or affection.
i. Some people get into jobs that mandate to hurt people.
If you were to write a crime story, it’s great to include characters who appear persevering and dedicated to his job, however, they’re actually joining the force to hurt by mandate.
j. The debate between “moral Machiavellianism” and “communal narcissists.”
It happens when your readers try to determine your villain’s perspective why he has to do that as I pointed out in Section G.
My take for that is providing situations or allowing your villain and your main character meet with vindication in mind.
The confrontation must contain the villain’s realistic reasons to wake your main character up from his fantasies.
Most of the time, those blunt and tactless people are typically the bad guys. Well, in fact, they’re being realistic.
In the way, it’s clearer to apprehend when people need to be ruthless for the common good versus doing ruthless for the sake of pleasure. Let your readers see the two sides of the story.
4. Expand Villain Ideas To Know Their “Inner” Self
Your antisocial character isn’t born to become evil without provocation. This doesn’t necessarily equates as the main characteristic of a villain.
Their actions speak their desire to give pleasure for the ones he treasure more. They could be his caregivers, his parents, or himself.
There are circumstances that helped them mold to do bad things to others. They have their own reasons behind these actions.
You’d think this girl is evil simply because she’s trying to get her way into the main characters’ blossoming romance.
You don’t know her side why she has to do it. You see, we perceive Severus Snape as the bad buy without knowing he’s too hard on Harry Potter.
To better explain that, a group of the research team from Germany and Denmark performed the study and determined the 14 psychological driving forces behind the transformation of one good person to become bad, really bad.
Through their study, you can create your own backstory and reveal it towards the middle or the end of your book.
a. Compensation Effect
Place your character in a situation wherein they accidentally make a mistake. Maybe, they killed someone by mistake. After feeling guilty, we do something good.
b. Power Of Ranks
Create a situation forcing them to conform with the unethical practices. In that way, the situation forces to skew people the sense of reality and challenging their beliefs, including your future villain.
c. Cognitive Dissonance
Write a scene wherein your character ignores (or trying to ignore) the inconsistency of their actions and beliefs for the sake of feeling good by getting what they want.
d. Broken Window Theory
Let your character put into a situation wherein their driving force for an ineffectual authority becomes strong to survive the chaos and disorder.
If you observe, “Rurouni Kenshin,” you see a lot of these scenarios. The same goes with the rest of the war stories.
e. Tunnel Vision
When your character happens to be an ambitious man, create a scene wherein they show how impeccable they are when it comes to planning his strategies to reach his goals without considering the ethics and compassion.
f. Pygmalion Effect
This concept follows the old adage, which says, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” Probably, your character simply wants revenge. Nothing else.
g. Social Pressure
Most writers use this technique to put their characters under pressure, leading to inevitable transformation to appear evil in the story.
Most of the time, they appear to be sons of influential parents trying to control their children for the sake of protecting their power and fortune.
h. Obedience To Authority
The same applies to social pressure. By putting your character in a scenario wherein they don’t have a choice but to follow someone’s order to survive.
And once he’s able to find his escape, he kills that person to free himself a 100%. From there, his own journey as a villain continues.
i. Winner-Take-All Competition
Be it in Teen Fiction or Young Adult, you can see a lot of characters in the middle of a deadly fight to become the best of the best in the group. You notice “Hunger Games” here, eh?
j. Blinding Effect Of Power
Your character must have been a self-made billionaire, who becomes blinded with his newly found riches.
Seeing someone who possibly threatens his fortune, he’d do everything he can to get rid of him.
k. Conspicuous Consumption
I notice this in most of the dystopian stories wherein the flashing reward appears in front of their eyes, provoking their desperation.
And your villain happens to be one of those people who wants to get that regardless of the method he uses.
In the middle, he’s going to get jealous or become selfish against colleague or teammates.
l. Social Bond Theory
Sibling rivalry is the most common story here. Once the other person receives more than he, his insecurities rises to the point he does ethical violations as a result of under appreciation.
m. Acceptance Of Small Theft
Your character might have been asked to do bad things to please others. Especially if it’s for his parents.
Your villain may have started stealing small goods. As he grows up, he learns how to steal bigger things to the point where authorities have to intervene and capture him.
n. Reactance Theory
When your character feels choked on the main lead’s imposing rules in the office, he becomes the bad guy among the group.
The same thing when your character belongs to a task force or military group. What matters is when their resistance builds up and breaks the rules for his own good, not for the whole group.
How Psychology Helps Create Believable Villain Motives?
Simple, it’s easier for you to write scenes and place your character in these situations to mold them.
Within these painful events, they become vindicated as their hearts start to fill with anger and revenge.
And when they become mature in their new image, that’s when the conflict begins.
His belief and his coping behavior from the painful past will go against the main character’s goal.
The tension arises. It will be fun to write it down.
Conclusion – How To Create Villains?
It’s important to understand them in every angle. They don’t happen to be villainous without reason.
They might have the past to forget and move. It just happens to go be in conflict with your main character’s motives. But that doesn’t mean they’re bad.
They may appear evil because of the result of their coping mechanism to survive the tough world.
Yet, underneath the surface is a young man or a little girl suffering, in agony and desperate to tell an untold story. Your villain tries to survive an unempathetic and mediocre world.
I remember that experience when I dig into Adolf Hitler’s background story. Yes, the world knows he’s responsible for the World War 2. But underneath his power is a boy longing for affection and love for the family he cherishes.
That crave for love turns into seeking revenge for those people who inflicted harm to him. His love transforms into wrath, which then becomes the world war.
Do you get my point?
Now, it’s your time to do your task. Write their stories in your head and tell it to the world in words.
If you like this post, share it with your family and friends. Especially those who plan to join NaNoWriMo 2020 and/or Wattys 2020.
If you have additional thoughts to share, feel free to leave them in the comment section below. 🙂