Three Joys Of Writing Evil Characters

"And there's a creepy doll...that always follows you." -Jonathan CoultonThere are so many guilty pleasure in writing villains.  And there’s a dirty little secret – you don’t actually need to feel guilty, because all of these little writing delights can actually make for better characters

1. You can take it way, way over the top.  Obviously, every villain and antihero is different; certainly, some are utterly subtle (consider Terry Pratchett’s Patrician, a man of such quiet and calm that a few of his words can utterly terrify even the very brave).  But if you want someone grandiose, someone whose schemes and words and actions play out like an exploding volcano erupting onto an attacking UFO, your villain can be that person.

Go ahead.  Let your villain monologue; the idea is a cliche, but if the actual fulminations are engaging, you can not only get away with it, you can even make it a show-stopper.

Great villains can even inspire heroes to grandiloquence.  Consider what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own Sherlock Holmes said about Professor Moriarty:

“He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city, He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans.”

2. You can actually be one-dimensional if you want.  Everyone knows that you need to create characters with depth and nuance; that’s an almost inviolate rule.  But (and this will lead us into our last point in a moment) – villains break the rules.  You do need to be careful here; you’re going to need nuanced, developed heroes, because they’re going to have to do the heavy lifting in terms of character development in your story.  But that’s not a bad thing.  What if you treat your villain as essentially a force of nature?  A hurricane doesn’t have a personality, just deeply dramatic effects.  A protagonist who simply meets them all without breaking a sweat will be boring; in contrast, if she fights both inner and outer battles as she struggles against the elements, she can enthrall us.  Your villain could be like that storm: powerful, destructive, theatrical, larger than any single individual.  In other words, your villain has the option of not being a fully-developed human…if her actions allow us to see more of your protagonists’ humanity in the process.

3.  Villains break rules.  Go ahead.  Shatter the fourth wall.  Let something unthinkable be thought.  Let the impossible happen.  Villains are, in effect, a disruptive technology, who either threaten a world (whether that “world” is as individual as a single person’s life, or as large as the Universe) – or who have already taken it from a normal state to some new, disconcerting, dystopic place.  Villains create in massive doses, because they’re fueled by one of the core ingredients of great change: destruction.

Of course, you can do whatever you’d like with your villains–after all, they’re your characters, and you control them.


~The Dark Lord’s Journal

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