Creating Villains You Love to Hate

Hello, Katy Lee here. As a romantic-suspense writer, my stories would take a serious nosedive without a well-developed villain. Someone who stands in my protagonist’s way to finding their happiness. Someone who drips with anger and evil; who lives for the sole purpose of another person’s destruction. Someone who is a real-life monster.

It seems kind of fun to create such a dark character, doesn’t it? But, in all seriousness, wouldn’t it be considered a bit…um, like overkill?

The fact is unless you are writing a horror novel or perhaps, some fantasy, your villain needs to be human. They and their cause need to be believable. Sure, psychopaths do exist in the real world, wreaking havoc on innocent people for no apparent reason, but they don’t always make for a good nail-biting, heart-tugging, emotionally-gripping read.

These come when your reader can relate a little bit to your villain. Perhaps recognize a little bit of the villain’s darkness in themselves. Or even better, when the protagonist in the story can.

In my current manuscript, Real Virtue, there comes a point when my heroine must look her villain in the eye and come to grips with her own wrongs….because she recognizes them in him. It’s an eye-opening experience for her, and without it, he’s just a boring psychopath. And she has learned nothing.

One of my favorite villains whom I love to hate is good old Darth Vader. And it’s got nothing to do with his deep breathiness. Here is a darker-than-night individual. A person whose temptation for power overcame him, extinguishing any goodness he had in him…or did it? In the end, he saves the day. There was still some good in him after all. He was not all dark. He had depth that I think we all could relate to. And that’s what made him a good villain. Without it he was just a boring, breathy psychopath.

The Unlocked Secret: When creating your villains, visit the deepest, darkest part of yourself. The part you keep hidden and under control. The part no one sees. I read on a Tweet that author, Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia) said, “If you can’t find yourself in your villains, rewrite.” It is in your own darkness that you will find a villain readers will love to hate.

Question: Where do you find your inspiration for creating your villains? Are your villains people? Or are they inner struggles your characters must wrestle with before finding their happiness, or at least some resolution?



20 thoughts on “Creating Villains You Love to Hate”

  1. Katy, this post spoke to me. In my genre, cozy mystery, the villains are usually pretty one-dimensional. Oh, they have a motivation for the murder(s) they commit, but it’s nearly always a superficial reason (money, revenge for a specific hurt they’ve suffered, an attempt to take credit for something that someone else really accomplished), Now you’ve got me wondering if I could make a better story if I develop the villain a bit more, somehow without giving away his/her identity. That would be a different type of book, but it’s definitely something to think about. Thanks!

  2. Nice post, Katy. I always try to remember that your hero is only as good as your villain. And villains don’t always have to be another person or creature -it can be nature (like the wilderness, a plague or an ideal).

  3. I wish I could remember who I am paraphrasing here, so I could give credit. From the villain’s point of view, he is the hero of the story. Donald Mass suggests writing (as an exercise) the whole story from the Villain’s POV in order to understand his motivations. While I can’t imagine taking the time to do this, it does make me stop and think!

    1. Ooh, yes, that is perfectly said. I think of my own villains, and they do consider themselves the heroes. I think of the Emperor from Revenge of the Sith (3rd Star Wars) where he says the Empire will finally have peace…HIS kind of peace. He thinks he’s the hero, saving the day.

  4. What I love about a bad guy is when the good guy realizes just how alike they are and has a moment…”That could’ve been me.” Luke and Darth Vader are a great example (by the way, I love that you used a Lego Darth!).

      1. I’m quite sure Darth has several bodies at my house 🙂 FYI, I have a secret talent — I can make new capes for Lego people, and have done so many times when the cape supply dwindles. Now you know.

  5. I agree with Kristan. In Harry Potter, one of his greatest issues is his fear that he is just like his mortal enemy Voldemort. But the wise old professor reminds him that it is not how alike they are, but how they differ that is important. So I try to remember that when creating my villians. In one of my works, I have a villian, who I initially had planned to kill in the end of the book, but he was such a great evil, I couldn’t kill him off. I allowed him to escape (for now). Sometimes they are such great villians (like Darth and Voldemort), we do need to allow them to hang around for a while. But alas, they must ultimately be defeated in the end. (~sigh~) Great post Katy.

  6. So true, Katy. I think the scariest people are those our characters live with, interact with every day. When they betray you, you realize just how vulneable you really are. Great blog.

  7. Love the post. My villain is a drug addict and alcoholic. His behavior is predicated by his habits. I am not those things, or am i? Nah … Who wants to look at our own dark side? Even if we look, can we find it? Therapy is probably the only way you might discover those deep dark secrets long buried. Or do you have some unknown methodology yet to be discovered?

    1. Oh, I don’t know. I think I have plenty of bad habits…maybe not those, but I could still base a villain off of them.

  8. I enjoyed your post. I usually look to the newspaper of the news for my inspiration. I don’t think I’m the only one.

    1. Oh yes, for sure. You can get a wealth of ideas from the news. Which I have to say is pretty sad to think of all the crime out there, but it makes for good stories. At least ours don’t really effect someone.

  9. Great posts and great replies. : ) I write cozies as well (Amish cozies). My villains come from a variety of places, since they are sometimes Amish, sometimes Englisch … but they are always characters who have stepped off the path most of us are struggling down. They’re over their on a totally different trail. And they’re convinced that THEIR TRAIL is the right one, and they have a very good reason for being there.

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