How to Write a Good Villain

by A.F.Stewart
Like with all characters, when I write villains I strive to create well rounded, relatable constructs with sound reasons for their actions. Those reasons may be awful, but they have to be plausible. Villains need to be complex, like any character, with flaws and quirks, weakness and strengths, but they do come with a built-in problem:  how to make evil seem personable.
I find that’s the core of writing a good villain, connecting to a reader, and—in my opinion—the number one thing a villain needs is motivation, the rationale for why he does all those dastardly things. Does he feel wronged by the world, and is out for revenge? Does he feel he’s doing some kind of service by killing certain types of people, or trying to take over the world? Is he wicked for profit and in the game solely for money? Or does he simply enjoy being bad, and gets a thrill from spewing his evil into the world?
Take my character, Balthazar, who appears in both Killers and Demons, and the new sequel. He’s a horrible murderous demon from Hell, who chases after escaped souls of the damned, and truly enjoys his job. But job performance isn’t his only motivation. His actions are also driven by the selfish desire to stay on the good side of his boss and not return to Hell. He’d much rather remain topside where he can sip fine wine and wear dapper clothes (he’s a bit vain about his appearance). He’s like many people, in that he just wants the good life, the only difference being he does it demon style with a side order of murder and mayhem.
Another example of how I humanized the villains in Killers and Demons II is Hannah. She’s young, a bit cynical, and she’s had some hard breaks in life, but is trying to get by in the sometimes cruel world of Victorian London. I introduce the character as a sympathetic, used and abused woman, then flip a switch to show the rather nasty way she’s decided to deal with her circumstances. I think this ambiguous juxtaposition makes her a very fascinating character despite her wicked ways.

In my experience, the crux of writing a believable antagonist is to appreciate that even bad guys need understanding, and what makes a good villain is the emotional correlation to a reader. They may loathe them, fear them, even somewhat sympathize with them, but on some level a reader has to recognize their emotive mayhem. It’s the little touches, these emotions people identify with, that help ground a villain and bring him (or her) to life on the page.

Come one, come all, to a festival of murder and mayhem.
We have killers, demons, witches and more, with bloody exploits galore.
Evil is back, with a greater appetite for death.

Sample what is offered, but be careful. What you nibble on may turn out to be somebody’s fingers…

A. F. Stewart was born and raised in Nova Scotia, Canada, and still calls it home.  The youngest in a family of seven children, she has always had an overly creative mind and an active imagination. She is fond of good books (especially science fiction/fantasy), action movies, sword collecting, and oil painting as a hobby.

Ms. Stewart is an indie author with several published novellas and story collections in the dark fantasy or horror genres, with a few side trips into poetry and non-fiction. She has a great interest in history and mythology, often working those themes into her books and stories.
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