Three tips to writing multi-dimensional villains
At the Surrey International Writers’ Conference this year, I attended a workshop by author Wendy Roberts on how to create a great villain. Judging by her popular Ghost Dusters series, I’d say what she does works. Below are some of Wendy’s tips, mixed in with several of my own.
Books, of course, can have more than one villain (bad guy) but should really have only one main antagonist (the baddest bad guy).
1. Know your antagonist. Most of us spend more time developing our protagonist then our antagonist. But we should know our villain as well as, or even better than, our hero. We have to know our antagonist inside and out. To help with this, I ask myself questions. What makes them tick? What in their childhood or past set them on their path? What drives them? Greed? Revenge? Drugs? What do they want out of life? What makes them feel good? What makes them feel bad? Dig deep and find your villain’s motives. But don’t stop there.
2. How is your antagonist good? Next, make a list of the good things your villain does. She’s not always a villain, right? In the paranormal book I’m working on now, my villain loves the native plants and herons around his property and takes great care in their preservation. Uncover your villain’s humanness behind his or her mask of evil.
3. Opposing goals. The villain is the center of his own universe. In his eyes, the story is about him. Your villain, therefore, needs to have his own goal that opposes the protagonist’s goal. What is the villain’s goal? Why does he want it? Why doesn’t he want the protagonist to achieve his or her goal? What would happen if the antagonist reached his goal? What would happen if the protagonist won? What would happen if neither won?
Use these tips to develop a three-dimensional villain. I like to pick one question or area, set the timer for 15 minutes, and just write. Try it. You may be surprised at what you discover about your villain.