Creating a Villain
*An excerpt From The Adventurer’s Guide to World Building and Storytelling coming out soon*
I find that most writers are vastly better at creating either a hero or a villain in their early writing days. Whether this tends to be an area where you may present your strengths, or an area where you must conquer your weaknesses, I am confident that this section can strengthen your storytelling and character building. Now, let’s create the perfect villain for your fantasy world.
Recall the basic story structure I gave you in Story Building. I have listed its summary here:
1. The Protagonist (And his world)
2. The Protagonist needs
3. The Protagonist goes
The Protagonist searches
The Protagonist finds an apparent solution.
The Protagonist takes
The Protagonist Pays
The Protagonist Evaluates
The Protagonist turns (left or right)
The protagonist’s needs are fulfilled or are now different. (If the protagonist has the same need, the story probably isn’t over).
This story arc works well for the antagonist as well. In fact, typically, the antagonist’s story arc will be an opposite to the protagonist’s.
For example, the protagonist may be a simple farm boy who dreams of seeing the world. A good villain, then is a strong sorceress who intends to destroy it. The protagonist’s need may be to thwart the antagonist’s plan, and vice versa. The story goes on. The conflict becomes natural and unforced.
Already, if you know one character, as the author of their destinies, you begin to know the other. Take heart, if you know your hero, you have begun to know your villain. You are farther along than you think.
Now, we have an idea for the road your villain must travel. Thus, it is time for us to look at some popular and powerful villain archetypes.
First, there is the obvious bad to the bone villain. In this situation, the villain is bad, simply because he wants to be. If you’ve read my work, The King of Criminal Island, then it may be helpful for you to think of the villain R’gaar. Another good example would be the Joker in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Bad to the bone villains “Just want to watch the world burn.”
In the case of these villains, there does not have to be a tragic backstory. There does not even have to be some potential way to end the conflict peacefully. The only way for these antagonists to win is to destroy good.
In my personal opinion, these villains are best for stories where the villain’s perspective is not shared much. That is not to say that some people wouldn’t enjoy following and even rooting for a bad to the bone villain. Many would. But as someone who wants their writing to make a positive impact on the world, and as one who wants the best for their readers, I have no interest in making men who beat their wives, or terrorists who demolish buildings all for the joy of it seem cool or as having lives worth escaping to. I believe this kind of story telling, where the villain is to be loved simply for his villainy, betrays the purpose of writing.
The next kind of villain is the fork in the road villain. These antagonists, on the other hand can be well worth sympathizing with. In their case, they have faced the same dilemma the hero is presently facing, and went down the wrong road. They may be trapped there. They may be a villain out of consequence. They may be a hero who broke. Their tragedy may be greater than the one you are walking your protagonist through. These kind of villains are, at the very least, a warning of what your hero could turn into, if he does not choose a different path.
The third antagonist archetype is the hidden one. In this case, the villain is not openly bad. They are operating as a good or neutral character in the light. However, in the dark, they are the dark. The most popular example of this is most probably Senator Palpatine in the Star Wars prequels. If you’ve seen Disney’s Tangled, Mother Gothel also makes for a good example.
I call the the fourth villain style the confused hero. In the mind of this kind of villain, they believe they are the hero. These kinds of villains may hold their head high, but not because they only care about themselves. Rather, they are convinced that they share the conviction that the protagonist does, just from a different point of view. It is important to note that this kind of villain does not have to actually be interested in the greater good. They only need to be convinced that they are. A great example of this is Anakin, again from Star Wars. In Episode three, Anakin turns from the light to the dark side. He goes from defending the galaxy, to being its dominator. That being said, Anakin has convinced himself he is on the same path he has always been on. He tells his master Obi-wan that from his new perspective, “the Jedi are evil,” and goes on to become Darth Vader.
Is Darth Vader the good guy? Definitely not. Still, he convinced himself he was to such a degree that he was willing to assault a temple full of children in the name of justice.
Ponder these archetypes as you build your villain. What archetypes resonate with your story and world? Does it make sense for your villain to fall into multiples of these categories? That’s up to you.