In honor of Halloween, I thought I’d talk about book villains and what makes them good.
Well, good villains, at any rate. Obviously they’re not good, or they’d be the hero.
Now, villains don’t have to be super maniacal. Hell, they don’t even have to be a person.
They just have to do two things.
1. They have to oppose your hero, providing obstacles and difficulties for them. They’re the antagonist, so obviously they have to antagonize. (See what I did there? Lol)
2. They have to do it for a reason.
Being the bad guy…just because bad guy…
Your antagonist needs to be fully realized, every bit as much as your protagonist.
They have to have motives and a purpose. Even inanimate objects have a purpose, so why the fuck wouldn’t a fully fledged person?
Btw, chances are, the antagonist will fully believe in their purpose. If they don’t…you have to tell us why. Are they in denial? Are they being pressured by someone worse? If so…what are the motives behind THAT person’s actions?
Antagonists have feelings (unless they’re a sociopath or an actual inanimate object).
All of this needs to be taken into account, and they need to act accordingly. Even if you don’t devote page after page after page to their backstory, there still needs to be a clear set of patterns and emotions governing your antagonist’s actions.
If that isn’t the case, if you just write a bad guy because you need a bad guy…your story will fall flat.
If we were talking about some random side character that has a single line of inconsequential dialogue…you could write a less-than-half-assed backstory, and literally no one would know the difference.
But this is the main antagonist we’re talking about, here.
They play a huge role in the story, setting up a DIRECT contrast to your hero. Stopping them and their evil plot is the whole freaking point.
If they’re flat, there’s no real challenge for the hero.
So today I thought I’d discuss what makes a good bad guy. There are so many types to choose from.
Of course, there’s the spoiled brat. Inflated self worth leads to tantrums and breaking others’ toys until they get what they want. It just so happens that toys as adults can mean a car…or a kneecap.
These can be pretty fun to write, but I fucking hate reading that type. Lol. Its so much more frustrating than other types.
Now, the sociopath is close to “bad guy because bad guy,” but there’s still a motive involved. They aren’t necessarily hurting others because they like it…empathy just doesn’t quite factor in for a sociopath, you know with the whole…lacking emotion thing. Maybe other people are tools to them, a means to an end.
A way to make their plans work whether it goes badly for other people or not.
Anti-heroes are fun as antagonists or protagonists, honestly. Deadpool, anyone? Or perhaps…my novella, Annabelle? These villains genuinely believe in their cause. Who knows, maybe it’s a good cause? They just cross the line when they go for it.
Maybe you’re writing a story about two people competing for the same lover, or someone trying to seduce someone’s partner? Why are they doing it? Even something so simple as this (compared to conquering kingdoms and such) needs a motive.
Why are they after that one particular partner? Is going after married people a habit for them? Did they have an ambivalent or absent parent? Were they cheated on? Maybe they feel that your protagonist wronged them, and this is simplest form of revenge they can come up with (that won’t land them in jail.
Whatever the reason, you need to know it.
Maybe they do terrible, terrible things to others because they want to feel powerful. Were their parents control freaks? Did they have no autonomy growing up, and now need so much power that they take other people’s rights away to feel better?
Your main antagonist could honestly be your protagonist. To a degree, every protagonist should also be their own antagonist. Not always the main one, not unless it’s strictly a story about dealing with yourself and getting out of your own way. But every person in history has stepped on their own toes, in some way, shape, or form, at some point in their life.
We all do stupid shit. We all make bad decisions. We all cause problems for ourselves.
Inanimate objects and mythical beasts are the only time its really acceptable to have a bad guy be bad by its very nature.
Even your villain’s fatal flaw, the thing the hero uses to finally win, needs to have a reason.
Do acts of kindness make them feel weak because they were never shown kindness and had to be “strong enough” to make it on their own? You decide.
But it can’t be something ridiculous like…they convulse uncontrollably at the sight of a salad.
I mean, you can do that, but you have to commit. Every other aspect of that story better be just as ridiculous as a mega-villain who seizes-out every time they see a salad. And even that needs to have a reason, goofy as the backstory for that may be.
If you’re stuck, if your story feels a bit flat…maybe the problem isn’t your fully imagined hero, with every second of their life mapped out in beautiful detail, who you’ve had rendered by three different artists just because.
Maybe the problem is the villain you gave five minutes of thought.
Making them more realistic and giving them clear motives and plans will probably make it easier to spice up the story.
Hell, even if your story is phenomenal despite a two dimensional villain (which…how?), think how much better it could be if your antagonist had a real goal besides…making your hero’s life hell just because they can…
And if you don’t like thinking about the bad guy?
Literally no one cares. Lol.
It’s part of writing, my dudes.
So get to it. There’s no better time than Halloween.
Now, as far as what I’ve been up to in the past week, well…I released a book. Lol. Soul Bearer is officially available, which is freaking exciting. The reading and the live were super nerve wracking.
But it was worth it. Thank you to everyone that tuned in, and an even bigger thanks to those of you who’ve bought a copy. I truly appreciate it.
This past week was another…tremendously chaotic and terrible week. But the book release and the response from all of you was a wonderful bright spot.
I’ve also been editing and formatting. I also did some resizing of cover designs, now that I know the page length (aka the spine width) of The Gem of Meruna. I’ll be announcing the official rerelease date later this week! I’ll be contacting ARC readers in the next week or so.
Keep reading. Keep writing.