This week, we’re discussing character motivation, and today we are specifically focusing on villains that we love to hate.
There are very few things that elevate a story better than a fantastic villain. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that every good story has a good villain. Now, that doesn’t mean the villain has to be a mustachioed man twirling his cape. Sometimes, a villain in a story is actually the protagonist. But no matter who your villain is, it’s crucial that the reader connects to them. Earlier this week, I discussed how every character, whether hero or villain, comes from a place of pain, and how they deal with that pain determines whether they’re good or bad.
To build a good villain, it’s helpful to start with that third question we discussed on Monday: What is your character trying to prove or disprove? Remember, there’s something they need to do, and they’ve convinced themselves they need to do it for a reason. That reason is to prove or disprove something.
What we’re really interested in is the internal narrative, the story the villain tells themselves about their experience in the world and how to write it.
Imagine you have a villain who is going to rob a train. What does the villain need to do? They need to execute the plan they’ve established. Why do they need to do it? They need to do it so the hero can stop them. Remember, this isn’t a story about our villain; otherwise, they’d be the hero.
But the real question is, what is this villain trying to prove or disprove by robbing a train? Are they trying to prove they are the smartest person around? Are they trying to prove they have status or wealth? Are they trying to disprove someone who, in their past, said something about them they didn’t like? Are they trying to prove the world is chaotic by causing more chaos themselves?
If you can answer this question well, you’ll quickly find that this villain you’ve created will take on new dimensions. Anytime a villain sets out to prove or disprove something, they do it to the extreme. The villain who was bullied in childhood decides the only way to right that wrong is to destroy society. Or if the villain feels betrayed because someone stole from them, they set out to prove that trust is an illusion, but they’re driven to the extreme of trusting nobody ever.
Whatever is driving your character, whatever is motivating them, whatever they’re trying to prove or disprove, as a villain, we want to crank it up to 11. We want to take it to the extreme. One of the best ways to illustrate this motivation taken to the extreme is to give them the chance to recant. Give them the opportunity to make a different choice, and then show them doubling down every single time.
It’s even more effective if you add the pause, the hesitation of, “Do I really have to do this?” And then there’s the resolve, “Yes, this is the solution to my problem.” These are the villains that people love to hate because they have the same opportunities as the hero. They often come from the same place as the hero, but they have taken an incorrect path and, instead of repenting, they continue to walk down it to their destruction, and maybe the destruction of everyone else too.
If you want to build a villain that people will love to hate, you need to ask that question, “What is it that this person is trying to prove or disprove?” You need to take whatever that is and push it to the very extreme. And then you need to give them the opportunity to step back from it, but instead, have them double down. I guarantee you, if you write villains like that, they will grip your reader’s souls.
YouTube Video Link: https://youtu.be/Rd-GY1EJXpE
Thanks for reading and watching.
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