Villains aren’t just people who run around being mean and slapping puppies (in fact sometimes they have and love their very own puppy or kitten).
So how do we as writers of for screen, stage and print write the very best villains the world will love to hate?
You make your villain a match for your hero. Pretty much that simple…and that hard. Your villain can be a who or an it.
Think about Lord of The Rings Orcs to the Elves or Ripley vs. Alien. How about Kirk’s nemesis, Khan or maybe Frankenstein or the Wolfman vs. whoever. The Martian vs. staying alive on Mars.
Actors love to get these parts. People love to read about them in books. They hold attention. Great villains make for a great read or a great movie.
Heroes and villains work off each other. There must be a ‘balance of power’ to make their strange ‘dance’ fascinating to reader or watcher. They operate as two halves of a whole. And sometimes they literally are – i.e. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
How about Luke Skywalker when he discovers Darth Vader is his father? And don’t forget the current wave of comic book heroes and villains courtesy of Marvel Studios.
The villains we create for novels and screen scripts cannot be weak. It’s the job of the villain to create conflict and roadblocks for the hero to create drama and suspense. That’s what getting lost in a novel or a movie is all about.
If a villain isn’t very strong, the hero you create who is about to shine and show off his or her strengths won’t have a strong obstacle to push back against or who’ll give that hero reason for self-examination, growth and finding the strength to overcome. A weak villain is pretty much ‘meh’.
Something else to keep in mind is a villain has to seem to be, at least in the beginning, even more clever than the hero or stronger or more formidable. The hero has to be trying to figure the villain out and the villain (whether person, planet or weather) has to come on strong, winning for the greater part of the book or movie.
There have to be moments when we, the audience, cannot possibly see a way out for the hero. And the villain’s goal needs to be interesting. His fight against the hero creative. The villain doesn’t’ have to be all out ‘evil’. He or she or it can be misguided but powerful. And, though the ‘clever’ element often enters in, it’s not a requirement.
Think about this as well. Who gets the best lines? Usually the villain (presuming your villain isn’t a comet headed for earth). Work hard to make your villain human, dig deep to find that humanity within and don’t create an all dark villain. If you pull it off it will make that villain even more terrifying than just ‘good against evil’.
Unpredictability is a great plus for a villain too. How better to make an audience jump than to have a ‘monster’ like King Kong one moment cradling Fay Wray in the palm of his hand and the next batting her would-be rescuers off a cliff. Or tossing her in the bushes to go off to battle a dinosaur.
Try to avoid clichés, but don’t shy away either if it is just the perfect touch to a scene.
And remember your villain is no wimp. This guy is every bit a match for the hero in determination to succeed. He doesn’t back down and he doesn’t give in. He’s for real. Powerful and possibly capable of defeating the hero.
Even if it’s a comedy you’re writing, novel or script, the villain, no matter how comically presented, takes him or herself very seriously…and so are his goals that set up the drama/suspense/adventure.
As a wrap up I want to leave with one caution. It’s easy to turn a specific villain into a generalization. Stereotyping can lead to big problems with your script or manuscript and even hinder a sale.
Remember the cold war when ‘communist’ villains abounded? Made it seem like all ‘communists’ were villains. Now we’re in a zone where “Arab terrorist” frequently goes together while not all terrorists are Arabs and visa versa. The writer who doesn’t think things through can punch a lot of emotional buttons. Not all Mexicans are ‘drug lords’. Not all black American are pimps.
If your character absolutely must fall into that stereotypical swamp, then do something with that villain to make it a stand-out character for many other reasons.
Now go out there and create the best worst bad guy you can!
Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.