Without the White Witch, Aslan is just a recluse lion. Without Moriarty, Sherlock is just a know-it-all in a weird hat. Without the Joker, Batman is just a rich dude with anger issues and too much time on his hands.
Our villains make our heroes. Without them, our heroes can’t shine. That’s why it’s important to give our villains scenes where they can wow us with their quirks and scare us with their ferocity.
Use Key Scenes to Write a Great Villain
In general, heroes are predictable. Under normal circumstance, they’re boring. It’s only when a master villain creates chaos that the hero has a chance to show us what he/she is made of.
But it isn’t enough to simply point to a character and say, “That’s the bad guy.” You’ve got to let us get to know them. We need to understand what makes them tick. We need to believe that they can beat the hero and win the day.
Here are six types of scenes that can be used to highlight the fantastic personality of your villain.
Scene #1: The Origin Story
Every baddie starts somewhere. The origin story is a wonderful moment in which you can help us relate to your villain. In this moment your villain’s humanity shines through, and you can pull at our heart strings.
We feel bad for the young Syndrome as we watch him fight to earn the respect of his mentor, Mr. Incredible.
If you can make your villain’s struggle an exaggerated version of something we all battle with, we will begin to understand them on an even deeper level.
Scene #2: The First Look
First impressions are important. The first time we see your villain at work, we need to be wowed. It’s that first crime, that first harsh word, that first evil glance that will set the tone for your villain.
When Frodo cowers in the mud from the three Ring Wraiths, we know he is going to have a dangerous journey ahead.
Lex Luther’s entrance in the story must be awe inspiring. It should terrify us.
Scene #3: The First Confrontation
It’s that moment when the two rivals size each other up, the coin toss before the football game, the handshake before the political debate. The moment when your villain and hero meet face-to-face for the first time is a wonderful opportunity to show us why your villain will be a good foil for your hero.
When Cersei and Jamie come to Winterfell for the first time, we should immediately see the contrast between them and the Starks.
These confrontations are at their best when the villain reveals a chink in your hero’s armor. Until this point in the story, you’ve led us to believe that the hero was strong and good; but when you hold him/her up and compare him/her with your villain, we see that maybe everything isn’t as perfect as we thought, and that we are going to have a fierce fight on our hands.
Scene #4: The Hero’s Temporary Defeat
This moment is a must for every story. No one likes a blow out. If your heroes are winning for the entire game, we are bored stiff. We need to know that the stakes are real. We need to question whether this story is going to end well. Therefore, at some point in the narrative, the villain needs to be on top.
The Joker needs to successfully blow up the hospital. Voldemort needs to regain human form.
Scene #5: The Monologue
The monologue is the moment we all wait for, the moment we love to hate. James Bond is tied to a table. The laser beam is slowly creeping toward him. Feeling that victory is imminent, the villain decides to reveal his/her master plan.
We know it’s a mistake. We know the hero is going to escape; yet still, we eat it up because it’s such an important moment in the story.
It not only raises the stakes of the conflict by giving us a glimpse into what will happen if your hero doesn’t rise to the challenge; it also gives us a clear picture of your villain’s motivation. Does he want money? Power? Or does she just want to watch the world burn?
Who is the maniacal character causing all this chaos? In the monologue, we get to see the world through your villain’s eyes.
Scene #6: The Moment of Partial Redemption
Only the very best villains have these scenes. This is when, for the briefest moment, we are led to believe that the zebra might change its stripes. It may only last a split second, but in this scene your villain convinces us that there might be a chance that he/she can be redeemed.
It’s Gollum professing his loyalty to Frodo before trying to take to the ring for himself. It’s Long John Silver earning Jim’s trust before revealing himself to be a treasure-hungry mutineer. It’s the White Witch convincing Edmund she just wants to meet his brother and sisters, making us think for a split second that maybe she isn’t a heartless, hope-crushing, Christmas-hating monster.
If your villain can fool us, we will love them for it.
Give Your Villain the Stage
Because you’ve worked hard to create a villain that will give your hero a chance to show us what he/she is made of, you need to give your baddie a place to shine. Using these six scenes, build them a stage and let their performance wow us.
Have I missed any important scenes? What scenes do you like to use to create great villains? Let me know in the comments.
Need more plot help? After you practice these scenes in the exercise below, check out my new book The Write Structure which helps writers make their plot better and write books readers love. Low price for a limited time!
Think of the hero and villain from your work in progress, or imagine a new hero and villain. Then, take fifteen minutes to write one of the six scenes above. When you’re finished, share your scene with us in the comments. And if you share, remember to leave feedback for your fellow writers.