Villain — doesn’t the word just make your jaw clench and your heart race? Villains are the characters in books and movies who make life difficult for everyone else, especially your hero or heroine. The villain does whatever he or she can to thwart the master plan and bring misery to your protagonists. We hate the villain. Believe it or not, however, the villain of your fiction manuscript can be the most fun character to create.
There are some authors who are wonderful at characterizing their villains, while other writers create generic villains who seem like every other bad person we’ve ever met. In order for your story to be unique and original, the villain must have characteristics that make him or her complex, deep and intriguing. You want your readers to root for your hero or heroine, but you also want them to be fascinated by your villain. What makes that person tick? Why is he or she so bad? And how will the villain be overcome in the end? Those are the questions that writers must be able to answer.
In order to create a story with an interesting villain, you must first decide who the villain is. In most fiction manuscripts, the villain is a regular person who wishes evil on the protagonists, but in some stories, the villain is a disease or something even less tangible. And then there are the stories where the villain is actually the protagonist, like in Oceans Eleven. The main characters are thieves, but we want them to succeed because the forces they are fighting are even worse than they. Stories are almost always complicated, but as the writer, you must have a firm handle on who your readers will be cheering for.
The worst thing you can do in a fiction manuscript is to create a villain who is just evil. Why is the villain evil and what has happened in his life to make him so depraved? How does the villain exact his torture upon the main character, and does the villain ever get what’s coming to him, or does he have a change of heart? The point is that you must get inside your villain’s head before you can write about him on paper. Know the in’s and out’s of his psyche and decide how and when he will make life difficult for your protagonist(s).
If anything, I would advise you to spend more time developing your victim than any other character in your fiction manuscript. Although it is your protagonist with whom you readers will identify, your villain provides the story with momentum and conflict. Without a villain, a story is not exciting, so give your villain as much attention as possible. Give him a past, physical features, idiosyncrasies and desires. Make your villain leap off the page and into your readers’ minds.
It is also important that you give your villain the correct degree of “evilness”. I’ve read far too many books in which the villain is portrayed as no less wicked than the devil himself. For example, if your plot involves a character who is having trouble with his or her boss, make sure you don’t take it too far. The boss might overlook the character for promotions, walk away when he or she is talking, and otherwise make life difficult, but if the boss is a homicidal pedophile with the bodies of twelve children under the floorboards of his tool shed, make sure that the plot is worthy of such depravity.