Write Unforgettable Villains (The Formula)

story only as good as villain

An unforgettable villain is an absolute necessity for a insanely popular novel. The stronger your villain the more powerful your story.

Do you want to write an insanely popular novel? Then this post is for you.

We all know, every great story requires conflict. Villains are a fantastic catalyst for conflict.

So you should put time and energy into developing your antagonist.

We’ll show you how.

In order for your heroine to be strong, honorable and passionate, you must create a villain who is just as strong, evil and passionate.

The more your reader despises the villain the more they will love your heroine. For this reason they will want to see your protagonist succeed.

What we are going to show you will change the way you create your villains.

You may want to cast you antagonist as a storm, government or corporation.  The most effective way to do that  is to embody the evil opposition into a character.

It is easier and more effective to make an unforgettable antagonist from a tangible character than an abstract idea.

Step 1 Study Famous Villains

The best way to start is to see how other authors crafted famous villains.

Consider these examples:

  • Satan from Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • Count Dracula from Dracula by Brian Stoker
  • Professor Moriarty from Sherlock Holms by Arthur Doyle
  • Valdemort from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowlings

Also  See the article in Wiki How: How to Create a Perfect Villain 

Let’s think of things you might look for:

          1. Character traits you could use for your villain?
          2. Analyse how the writer describes the villain both physically and emotionally.
          3. Next, what role do they play?  How do they interact with the hero?
          4. Consider the backstory the author presents. What turned the villain to evil?
          5. What motivates the antagonist?
          6. Another aspect, how does the villain react to setbacks and challenges?  Do they win?

So how do you make certain the villain you craft will keep your hero in peril and you audience turning pages?

Three Types of Villainsbest villains conflicted

First, let’s look at different kinds of villains. The villain in your novel, may be the environment, your protagonist’s conscience, or fate.  We will cover  those in another post. Stay tuned.

In the mean time, if you are curious check out: Four types of Epic Antagonists

Even the most diabolical villain can usually be placed in one of three categories.

Bear with us, because we are going to show you how to create your own unforgettable villain.

This is just the beginning.

Lets look at the three types of unforgettable villains: Power broker, Schemer, or Manipulator.

angry villain

The Power Broker Villain

This type of villain possesses a dynamic personality, plus at least one source of power. The power might be money, fame, authority, position or possession of a weapon.

They dominate and control others. This villain uses their power to get what they want.

The power broker is usually oblivious of those around him. In addition, he feels no regret when he hurts others.

For this villain power is the core motivation. Either they have it and abuse it, or they are in pursuit of it.

If the villain, in your story, is an oppressive government or corporation, create a character, in authority in that organization, to demonstrate the worst characteristics of the organization.

 NEWS FLASH: the power broker is essentially a bully.

Download 251 wordsdesribe a villain

to Describe a Villain

Let us show you some examples of a power broker.

Example: Lady Wirthland knew the power her heritage gave her. She entered the parlor with the carriage and dignity of an iceberg. Her thin, sharp features never showing the slightest emotion.

The constable fidgeted,”Lady Wirthland, it distresses me to call on you this way, “but I must know the whereabouts of your son, George.”

Lady Wirthland looked down her nose at the little man.

“What reason do you need to know the doings of Lord George?” she coldly spoke, not offering him a seat.

The Constable flinched, then his back stiffened, and his eyes narrowed.

Example: The colonel’s head thrust forward like a weapon. He knew he was right.

The colonel was furious that anyone would challenge his authority. He would do battle with any man or woman who stood in his way.

Example: In the book “Encyclopedia Brown” by Donald J. Sobol, Bugs Meany is a ten year old Power Broker.

Example: In Harry Potter, Deloris Umbridge  uses her power as temporary headmaster of Hogwarts to control others and inflict pain. 

Can you see yourself writing this type of villain?                                            

                                   The Schemer Villain

Check this villain out. They arevillian often astonishingly good looking. What’s more, this villain can easily calculate how people will react with a great deal of accuracy. They are good chess players, consistently predicting the next move of those around them. In addition, they are often patient in their evil, waiting for the right moment or circumstance.

Schemers are essentially con-men.

Furthermore, they design traps and obstacles for the protagonist. The Schemer may be presented early in the story, as a good person. Then, as the story progresses, you can reveal their true motives.

Something else to keep in mind: Your main character may not recognize this villain in the beginning.

In comparison with the other two types of villain, this can be the most dangerous and most intriguing, especially if you don’t unveil his scheming personality too early in your story.

Most importantly, think carefully about when to reveal your schemer’s true motivation, because it will be a plot point which changes your readers expectation.

When revealed this villain may shock both your hero and your audience.

Example: Jeff was tall,classically handsome, an impeccable dresser. People clustered around him as if for actual warmth. When Patricia met Jeff she recognized a high seasoning of deviltry. Her instincts screamed, “Don’t trust him.”  Later, Patricia was glad she listened to her inner voice.

Example: Delilah had the lazy grace of a cat. Her sensuous swaying hips made married men consider infidelity. A mystic softness filled her eyes. Delilah was good at getting what she wanted and there was no doubt she wanted Mark, along with all his money. She would beguile him with her feminine charms. She knew how to catch her prey.

Example: Lago from Shakespeare’s “Othello” is a deliciously evil schemer who exploits the weaknesses of others.

 The Manipulator Villainthe manipulator villain

They are often self-centered and greedy. This villain lacks power and the ability to read people like the other two villains.

Manipulators use their personality to get what they want. In addition, they are conniving and regularly use other people without apology. Most of all they are charming when they need to be.

The manipulator often intimidates others with temper and tantrums. Of course their intimidation may be indirect also.

Their diabolical ways can make them unforgettable.

One interesting aspect of the manipulator is, when he does not succeed in getting what he wants, he always finds someone else to blame for his failures.

He does not hesitate to make others feel guilty, nor does he care about the pain he inflicts on other people.

Manipulators are strongly focused on their own wants. They get nasty if someone gets in their way.

inner emotion makes character

Here are some examples to demonstrate Manipulator villains

Example: Beth hissed through gritted teeth. “How can he do this to me?” Her fury exploding as she flung the door against the wall.

Candice cowered. “You said you didn’t want him.”

“I don’t! But I don’t want Mary to have him.”

Example: Bennie stood anxiously waiting for the explosion. It was his sister’s party and Bennie was determined to spoil it. He hated his sister Jane, and the natural ease she had when socializing. The firecrackers had a long fuse. He hid behind the curtain to enjoy the explosion.

Bennie took pride in his ability to disrupt his sister’s happiness and he felt he had concocted the perfect scheme.

Example: Amy Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s, “Gone Girl” is beautiful, clever, and completely twisted.

And  Abigail Williams from Author Miller’s “Crucible”.

Both are intriguing antagonists.

So do you think you can write a villain like this?

I have to admit; I think the  schemer is the most dangerous, but the hardest to write. The other two are more obvious.

More Tips and Tricks for Writing an Unforgettable  Villain

OK, so now you know the three basic kinds of bad guys. But there is much still to learn. You want a villain who energizes your story.

Remember, a great antagonist will add depth to your story.  Your villain’s main purpose is to hinder your heroine’s  pursuit of her goal. They can create roadblocks, build physical obstacles, stirrup trouble, tell lies and be deceitful.

Most of all, our antagonist should push your heroine to her physical, emotional, and spiritual limit.

 A Chilling Antagonist has a Planvillain has plan

Strong antagonists know what they want, and have determined the best course of action to get it. They are not simply actively opposing  your protagonist. That’s not enough, because they have a deeper agenda.

Be sure to let your readers in on their evil plans. Carefully enumerate their despicable plans. This will make your reader more anxious to see their plans fail.

Here is something really interesting. Villains think of themselves as heroes. They believe they are right or justified. They think the rest of the world simply does not understand them.

To be a worthy opponent for your protagonist,  your unforgettable villain must be smart, clever and persuasive. Don’t make them foolish or a bumbler. The stronger your antagonist the stronger your protagonist.

I know you will agree, it is especially important for your heroine to remain steadfast to her principles.

Let me share a secrete with you. Frankly, it is just as important for your villain to be unwavering in his principles. Even if his principals are odd or misguided.

smilling villain

Make your Villain Complex

A complex character with both good and bad traits is more believable, more interesting and more memorable.

A great trick is to let your antagonist occasionally be genuinely kind.

A villain  who does ordinary things like riding horses or listening to jazz, then does something cruel can be both mystifying and terrifying.

Obviously, an unpredictable villain will be more nightmarish.

Your antagonist must possess both human strengths and weaknesses which your readers can relate to ( even if your villain is not human).

The more your audience can relate to your antagonist, the more they will sympathize with them. For this reason, your audience will be more fascinated by a complex villain, with both good and bad traits.

One tip for writing a best selling novel, is to include at least one plot twist which demands your antagonist to adapt or change.

A shrewd antagonists will cause your readers to question their own judgment.

Check out: Ten Traits of a Strong Antagonist 

Are you catching on to what makes a sensational villain.

Good for you, keep reading for more ideas.

Intriguing Backstory villain's backstory

Here’s another key, you want your reader to understand your villain.

Backstory is the easiest way to explain your bad guy’s actions, choices and behaviors. They can’t be despicable just because. Your reader wants to know why.

The more details about their past the more your readers will get caught up in your story and want to keep reading.

Describe hurtful  experiences such as:

    • Shame
    • Betrayal
    • Painful loss
    • Mistreatment
    • A lie they believe
    • Corruption by power, riches or influence
    • Why do they hate your protagonist

The most spectacular antagonists have a previous relationship with the protagonist. This relationship should create much of the conflict and tension of your story.

The unforgettable villain does not just want to win, they want your heroine to suffer.

This intense personal relationship drives your villain. It propels him to do evil.

The villain knows your heroine well enough to know her weaknesses. This gives him the opportunity to exploit those vulnerabilities. That will up the stakes and increase the tension. Both things will make your story memorable.

villain's allies

    Villain’s Allies

Ask yourself , do you want your antagonist to have an obedient entourage?

The disadvantage is you would have to create another character or two.

The advantage is; you have characters which allow your villain to explain his plans.  You also can create dialog that will explain how your antagonist thinks, as well as his backstory.

Consequently, henchmen give your villain someone to tell his secretes to and back up his lies.

Of course their is another question, does he treat his cohorts with the same cruelty as everyone else? If not, why not?

Villains Don’t Fit In                          villain alone

Villains are the central characters in their own story. 

They become a law unto themselves. Interpreting rules by their own contriving.

Furthermore, they exist on the periphery, separated from ordinary people.

Because they are a law unto themselves, they have no problem breaking the rules of society.

Even if they are an insider, they set themselves above the law. They believe only their agenda is important.

They flatter themselves posing as the sole judge of their doings.

We believe this is the most Important Tip in this post, so we saved it for last.

darth vaderDistinctive Features

 For your villain to be unforgettable, endow them with something unique. Something which anchors them in your reader’s memory.

Lets look at some possibilities:

    • Distinctive physical features
    • The clothes they wear
    • How the walk or move
    • Small habits
    • Distinctive gestures
    • Tics and twitches
    • The way they speak
    • Unusual phrases they use often

Now go back to the beginning. What did you learn about famous villains. Do these tips and tricks apply to them. Of course they do. That is what makes them memorable.

So if you want to write an unforgettable villain just follow these suggestions.

Now we will give you a special tool, just for readers of our website

This will make creating a villain easy.

We have created a Create a Villain Worksheet, using all these ideas.

You can download it for free.sensational villain worksheet

Most writers spend their time creating the hero or heroine.  See: Formula for Creating a Character to begin creating a new character.

Or see: 5 Tips for Creating a Sensational Protagonist.

We have put together a list of 251 Words to Describe Villains for you to download.

Which kind of villain do you think is the most dangerous?

Which do you believe is the easiest to write?

Try our Worksheets. Tell us what your think.

Leave us a comment. We would love to chat.

Now is your chance to create a your own unforgettable villain. Give us an outline of your villain in comments. Let’s see what you have learned about writing villains. 

Happy Writing!

John & Patty                 @writingagreatbook.com  2019

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