Welcome to the Dark Side: How to Write Villains that Your Readers Will Love

Introduction

Writing villains is one of my favorite parts when I write.

Picture this: your main character wants something, but to achieve it, they have to fight against something. It could be society, themselves, or an actual person.

Crafting a villain is the first step in creating conflict in your story.

When another character is something your protagonist has to fight against to achieve their goals, we might be looking at a villain.

The thing is, we tend to look at villains as inherently evil. As humans, it’s in our nature to be on the side of the good ones and support their motives, aka the main character. 

Writing about someone who is “evil” has to be done with care. Your villain is still a character in your story that the audience needs to understand until a certain point. If you’re willing and want to go further, you can make your audience love your villain. If you’re wondering how to do that, I’ll give you some insight into this task.

As Harvey Dent in the 2008 film The Dark Knight said, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

Let’s get started!

What is a Villain?

By its basic definition, a villain is the antagonist of a story. Even though we tend to associate evilness with a villain, that’s not necessarily the case.

Still, villains do evil or wicked things to get what they want. Some well-known villains include Darth Vader from Star Wars and Voldemort from Harry Potter.

A good villain has their motives, as crazy as they might sound for non-evil people. Having a villain in your story just for the sake of it will end up in a meaningless character that your audience will find difficult to understand.

What is a Villain Arc?

Imagine this: You have a character on a journey, but things get challenging for your character, and it does not go as planned. Instead of achieving what they want, they lose their loved ones.

Dramatic, I know. But this type of tragic backstory is how villains are born.

A Villain Arc includes the events that explain how a character goes from not being a villain to being one.

You can have a villain in a story without writing its villain arc.

Anti-Hero vs. Villain vs. Anti-Villain

Since someone who does evil actions doesn’t necessarily equal a villain, there have been some new definitions that come in handy to describe other character archetypes, like anti-hero and anti-villain.

What’s the Difference Between an Anti-Hero and a Villain?

We already know how heroes are, right? They are brave, charming, and noble. They fight for the greater good. Anti-heroes are only similar in the fight for the greater good part and lack the other hero characteristics.

Anti-heroes can be mean, cynical, or dishonest. Still, most of the time, they want to do good.

Villains, on the other hand, have motives that tend to be evil by nature and also do evil things.

What is an Anti-Villain?

Have you heard of the phrase “the end justifies the means”? It’s a phrase we could use to explain anti-villains.

While anti-heroes can be mean, they don’t want to harm, and their motives are good.

On the other hand, anti-villains do evil actions, even if their ultimate goals are considered “good.” They have redeeming qualities and will not act like the typical bad guy.

Tips on How to Write a Sympathetic Villain

If you want to write a villain your audience will root for, here are five tips to achieve it:

1. Make Your Villain Funny

The easiest way (and one of my favorite ones) to make a villain likable is by giving them funny moments. 

Maybe their plans are too ridiculous to achieve, or they wear extravagant clothing. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to hate someone who makes you laugh.

For that reason, it’s common to see funny villains in Disney movies or children’s stories. Examples are Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove, and Gru from Despicable Me.

Source

However, be careful with this one. It tends to work better on stories where we don’t touch on sensitive topics or where the style allows you to be silly with your characters.

If you think your story allows it, feel free to make your villain as eccentric, silly, and funny as you’d like.

SEE ALSO: How to Make the Audience Love Your Main Character

2. Give Them a Sad Backstory

You can make the audience love your villain by giving them a sad backstory.

Villains are people with emotions and feelings. Even with their evil nature, they’re not exempt from feeling unhappy.

If you can use the sad backstory to explain why they act the way they do, you will have most of the job done!

One famous example is Snape from Harry Potter. We, the audience, felt bad for him as soon as we knew everything he went through during his childhood and teenage years. We can even say he turns into an anti-hero after we learn his true intentions.

Source: Warner Bros

If you’re feeling brave, you can introduce a villain in your story by giving them a villain arc. Show your audience the reason why your villain became that way.

As with any other tip regarding villains, proceed with care. If your villain’s backstory is too dramatic, or all your villain does is complain about it, you will have a contrary effect on your audience.

SEE ALSO: Creating Unforgettable Drama: 6 Techniques to Elevate Your Stories

3. Make Your Villain’s Motivations Clear

When crafting a villain, it is crucial to establish their motivations early on. Start by asking yourself what your villain wants. If your answer is to make the main character’s life difficult, then you need to elaborate more on their reasoning. Why does the villain want to cause trouble for the protagonist?

Take, for example, Bunny Pine, aka Syndrome from The Incredibles. When Buddy Pine was a boy, long before thinking about calling himself Syndrome, he was a fanboy for Mr. Incredible and wanted him to have him as a sidekick. However, Mr. Incredible rejected his offer, which made Buddy resentful of superheroes. Fifteen years later, he wants to take revenge and make Mr. Incredible feel like he felt.

Source

I remember watching the movie and thinking, “C’mon, how could this guy hold grudges against Mr. Incredible?” It didn’t make sense to me. However, it didn’t need to make sense. In this case, the villain was hurt and made his choices according to that. It made sense for the villain, and that was enough.

4. Make Your Villain Believe They’re Right

“Bad guys think they’re the heroes of their own stories; they’re not sitting there thinking, ‘Yeah, I get to be evil today.'” — Jeff Abbott.

Some people think the best villains are the ones who think they’re doing the right thing. I think those are the good-written villains.

Maybe your villain is too young to understand, they have a different morality system, or someone made them think their actions are for the greater good. Whatever the case, if your villain is acting in what they believe is good, it’s easier for the audience to put on their shoes.

If you take this to the extreme, your villain’s actions can be seen as tragic, especially if they didn’t want to harm people in the first place.

If your villain is evil just for the sake of it, your audience will find it boring.

5. Give Your Villain a Soft Side

To reinforce the idea that villains are humans, give them something or someone to care about.

It’s common for villains to have pets or a significant other. That way, you can give the reader glimpses of your villain’s personality instead of always having them being the mastermind behind villainous plans.

SEE ALSO: The Power of Chemistry: How to Write Compelling Character Relationships

It’s easy to love someone when you see their soft side.

If you want to, you can show your villain’s personality traits before becoming a villain. It will help your readers understand your character better and see they have potential for being good.

Conclusion

Writing a villain is just like writing any other character. If you want your readers to root for your villain, it’s crucial to develop your villain’s personality, motives, and backstory.

To make a good villain, make them believe they’re right, make their motivations clear, and give them a sad backstory. I guarantee you your readers will love your character! Also, don’t be afraid to show their soft or funny side. 

I invite you to try the tips in this article next time you write a villain. Who knows, maybe your villain will become a reader’s favorite!

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