Behind the Story: Creating a Villain

Owl & White/Red BookBehind the Story posts will be about what goes on behind the scenes as a writer creates their story.  I’ll be writing about my own writing process and sharing any tips or advice I’ve discovered on my own or gathered on the topic.  Hopefully both readers and writers find these posts fascinating!

This week’s topic: 
Creating a Villain

Unless you’re writing a novel that revolves completely around an internal conflict or a natural disaster, chances are good that your story requires a villain.

Villain is the popular term.  The literary term is antagonist.  An antagonist is a person who actively opposes the protagonist.  (Protagonist being your leading character.)

There are lots of questions an author might ask themselves as they create their villain, but one of the most important ones is:

What is my villain’s motivation?

  • What do they want?
  • Why do they want it?
Villains can’t just be evil for the heck of it.  Well, they can, but then you’ll have a very flat and boring character on your hands.  The best villains have a reason behind their wicked ways: something they want and a reason they want it.
Let’s take a look at some particularly well-known and fabulous villains:
Voldemort
What he wants: to be all-powerful, immortal, and to kill some Muggles
Why he wants it: After learning his heritage, he loathes his Muggle father for abandoning his pureblood mother.  His solution to what his father did is to become all-powerful and live forever to squash Muggles and their ignorance.
Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker
What he wants: To prevent those he loves from dying
Why he wants it: After watching his mother die and dreaming of Padme’s death, Anakin promises to find a way to conquer death.  When Emperor Palpatine proposes that the Dark Side can offer him powers that will conquer death, Anakin turns to the darkside and lets his fear consume him.
Those are just two examples, but I bet if you look at some of your favorite book villains, you can identify some sort of motivation that goes beyond “I’m evil!  Let’s kill something!”
As I set out to craft a villain:
I initially was going to make my villain some sort of fire witch.  I wanted her to have some sort of association with fire because my protagonist is going to by pyrophobic (fear of fire).  But I never could get myself to fall in love with the idea of a fire witch.  I couldn’t define it.  I couldn’t get a strong image in my head.  I’d named her Hestia after the Greek goddess of the hearth.  So the name alluded to fire and sounded witchy.
But I wasn’t satisfied.
So I started to think about motivation.  A new idea formed that would replace fire witch.  I’m making use of a different character of magical lore which I’m not going to share here because I want it to stay mine.
But I will share the motivation I came up with.
What my villain wants: To manipulate men
Why she wants it: Throughout history she’s watched women be controlled by men.  She doesn’t want to be controlled.  She wants to do the controlling.  And she’s accompanied by an entire secret society of women who have been controlling men for the last three thousand years.
Think alternative history and hidden clues like DaVinci Code or National Treasure.
So much better than a fire witch.
And let’s just say that once I came up with my villain, my word counts have been higher.  What can I say?  Evil characters motivate me  🙂
What are your favorite villains and what motivates them?
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9 comments on “Behind the Story: Creating a Villain

  1. Hi Lauren! I just answered a meme post on my blog on Tuesday about favorite villains. It is hard to create one, everyone loves a hero but a bad guy is so much more tricky! I am sure you will make a fine author with all the thought you put into creating your characters.

  2. LHughes says:

    I just checked how your post! What a funny coincidence! Villains deserve some love! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  3. Ooh–good post, and what a great concept for a villain's motivation! I really like how Gregory Maguire fleshes out the villains so you totally get their motivation. You might not want them to win, but you still have sympathy for them–or at least an understanding of why they're the way they are.

  4. CWhitney says:

    Villains can be such fun characters to create. I really like your new "fire witch" giving her a justifiable reason for doing what she does makes her feel like a real person and that's always the goal of creating any character. Awesome post!

  5. LHughes says:

    Despite loving the musical Wicked, I haven't read any Gregory Maguire! He might be good further research for me in fleshing out my evil characters 🙂

  6. LHughes says:

    I love that moment when your characters click, and suddenly become real people with minds of their own. It's one of my favorite "writer moments" :)It's just getting them to that moment and making them real that can be the tricky part!

  7. Small Review says:

    Great post! Diving into a villain's head and watching them act out against the protagonist is so much fun. I can totally see why it would be motivating to write about the villain. :)How does your villain feel about controlling women? Is there something specific about controlling MEN that she dislikes, or would she be just as bothered by controlling women? You don't have to answer that here if it would be spoilery. I love the sound of the secret society. Secret societies = automatic points 🙂

  8. LHughes says:

    Great question about controlling women! I had to think about it, but I think she wouldn't be bothered with controlling women because in my society women don't have very much control or power. She likes to use men for their money, influence, etc.BUT, I have written a scene where she is annoyed by and threatens a female character so it is something to give some more thought to… Like would my villain consider a woman competition or would she induct her into her secret society?Thanks for getting my wheels turning! 🙂

  9. Small Review says:

    You're welcome! Control is fascinating and there are so many different directions you can go with a character like that.

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