What’s in a Villain?

Villainminth

Mwahaha! Welcome to the blog of terrifying tales of evil, for during this October, the dastardly forces that haunt our stories will be taking over! It’s Villains Month, bis-natches!

I’ve done a villain-themed month on my previous blogs, and it was so much fun that I’m bringing it back for this one. October is the month where the West focuses a lot on villains, because this is the month of our annual celebration of darkness and horror.

First things first, we’re going to talk about what makes a great villain. I am of the school of thought that your villain needs to be just as powerful and just as characterised as your hero. Your hero is only as great and as compelling as your victim. Now, I know some of you are thinking: doesn’t this only work for stories that use the heroes journey school of writing, now for hoighty toighty literary fiction and experimental fiction. Guess what buckos, these works have villains too. Now sit down and listen. These are some tips for good villains:

1) A villain has to be a legitimate threat

If your villain isn’t a legitimate threat, then your story is going to be immensely boring. It could also backfire on you, and leave your audience feeling more sorry for the as they get whumped by someone stronger or smarter than them. The villains job is to create obstacles for the hero. If the only obstacle is that the hero has to stop what they’re doing and kick the villain in the ribs, then who’s the true villain?

2) A villain must be a reflection of the hero

This one can go a lot of different ways. The villain can reflect the hero by being their opposite (ie: Batman & the Joker), being what the hero could have become, or even by being a primordial force when the hero is a mortal. The possibilities are endless. Get creative.

3) A villain has to have clear motivations (to themselves)

Let’s face it: the hero doesn’t have to know the motivation of the villain. Half the fun in both horror movies and crime shows, for instance, is waiting for the hero to figure out the villain’s motivation. However, the villain should at least know why they’re doing it. “I don’t know why I’m doing this” can be the surface, but greater motives should be hinted at. Villains who don’t know why they’re doing things are just not compelling.

“But Kelsey,” you’re saying,  “I thought you said you were going to teach me how to write great villains. You haven’t, and I want my money back!” Jokes on you, person, because this is free. Also, I’m getting to that. 

If you really want your villains to scare your readers to the core, this is how you do it.

4) A great villain is someone your audience will identify with

Oh, I could give you so many examples of this. And I probably will, in later posts. The gist is that no one likes to admit to their inner darkness, as we call it in Psychology, your inner “id”. The part of you that rages against the person who cut you off in traffic, that considers murdering your stuck-up coworker, the part that wants without any consideration of consequence. If a villain can embody this, then you are golden. Another popular technique is to have your villain emerge from tragic circumstances. The point of all this, essentially, is to give your audience a mirror in the abyss. The only thing more terrifying than looking into the abyss is looking down and seeing your own face reflected back.

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