After watching Cruella in the cinema the other day, it got me thinking about how poor some villains can be created. I do feel sometimes the author has focused so hard on making the hero seem real and enticing to route for that the villain almost falls short. To me, the villain needs to be as powerful as the hero. Normally they are two sides of the same coin, and you don’t want one to fall flat against the other.
I thought long and hard about what I feel should be expected from a villain, and I thought I would compose a list to help those aspiring writers.
- They need their own back story
You spend a lot of time focusing on the hero’s background because you want them to seem believable, as if you could walk down the straight and see someone like them there. To me, you need this for the villain as well. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to say what their favourite food was as a child, or how they used to wear their hair as a teenager. But give them a family, give them a childhood home. Give them a believable story as to why they became the way they did. Were they abused? Were they taken advantage of? Were they thrown out? Make them sound real.
2. Need to have relationships with people, whether good or bad
You already have one under your belt — the relationship they have with the protagonist. Naturally, this will be a bad relationship, where one takes advantage of the other or wants to destroy them. But give them more. Possibly a love interest? Someone who worships them? Someone who would classify as their friend? More relationships shown for them, the more real they become because you are seeing them through many different eyes. It give more dimension since they are seen as the villain to your hero’s tale, but that is only one perspective. Other relationships will give more strands to this character.
3. Need to have personality, something that makes them unique and not a simple stock figure
This is when certain villains grind on me. When all they seem to be is someone who wants to remove the hero. No one is that singular level. Everyone has something to them as everyone has a personality. So give your villain one. Do they crack jokes all the time? Do they have a soft spot for a pet or certain people? They have their own mind, so use it. Give them depth, give them a personality.
4. Try to make them seem human
Think about it. In this world we live in, we may have people we do not get on with or would prefer not to be in our lives, but I can’t say I have an arch enemy. Of course, you can interpret this point however you want. To me, I want the hero and the villain to be questionable about who is right and who is wrong. Whilst others are simply seen as want to be evil and take over the world. But every human can be vulnerable. Don’t leave it to the end where the hero prevails and the villain is destroyed. Show vulnerability before that. Perhaps they loose a battle before? Perhaps they question about hurting someone close to the hero. Show that sense of humanity. I love the quote used in the BBC version of Sherlock — “Every fairytale needs a good old fashioned villain.” — But how I interpret this is that old fashioned villains were shown as human. They had a bad habit, or they wanted power, or they simply wanted to break free of society. Either way, they were there before the hero. The hero just seemed to cross paths with them and was their downfall. So use that, remember that this villain you’ve created did not begin when they met the hero.
5. Don’t make them accessible through the hero
This last point lines up perfectly with my previous one. I do hate when I’m reading a story and it almost feels like the villain has done nothing because the hero hasn’t been there. Don’t have it that they are only having screen time when the hero is with them. They need to be a constant threat, to be projecting forward with their plans 24/7. You don’t have that with the hero, that they stand still and do nothing until the villain meets with them — so don’t do it with your villain. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have chapters from the villains behalf — although I have found it intriguing when I have done that in my own work — but do more with them than simply bringing them to the final battle. Perhaps have a character mention that they spotted them? Or that they were with them? Perhaps have it that the hero and villain turn up at the same spot without meaning to. Just do more with them than just the final battle, because believe me, it gives so much more depth and intrigue to the story.
The villain is as important as the hero in my opinion. They need to be well rounded and compelling as their enemy. Make them human as well, make them fail and try again over and over. No one is perfect, and no one is perfectly evil to that — so give them more than a simple name on the page.
I do love how villains are being given more limelight, and I have to say that I do often find myself intrigued when they are written well. Do you prefer a hero or a villain?