Most writers (and readers) have learned by now that a good villain involves more depth than just a bad guy running around, trying to take over the world. But how do you do that? What's the secret for writing villains?
Treat your villain like your hero
A good rule of thumb to follow with any character you create is to treat each of them like the hero of the story.
Of course you can only have one true protagonist (most of the time), but each character should think he’s the star of the show. Often times your characters will open up to you more if they think the spotlight is on them. Your villain shouldn’t be any different.
Give him a back story, give him a fear (or several), give him a family. Your villain is an important character, so treat him like one.
Give him a redeeming quality
All good villains have redeeming qualities that either make you feel sorry for them or simply make them a little less evil. Snape’s redeeming quality was his love for Lily. Voldemort’s lonely childhood as Tom Riddle made us feel just a little sorry for him (but only a little). My villain tragically lost his wife when his colleagues killed her, despite his order not to.
All of these things help to give your villain more depth, just like giving your protagonist flaws helps to make him more human. What are your villain’s redeeming qualities?
Have they always been evil?
This is a great question to ask yourself, and more often then not you’ll get a surprising answer. Most people—in life and in fiction—aren’t born as evil people. Maybe they were raised to be bad or something in their life caused them to change their views, but usually someone or something has to make them that way. If you find out what happened, you’ll learn a little more about your villain.
Who are your favorite villains? What do you like about them?
Ready to start writing villains today? Take a scene from your novel or short story involving your protagonist and your villain. Then, rewrite it so it’s told from your villain’s point of view. What did you learn about your villain from writing it? If you’d like, post your practice in the comments. Be sure to give your fellow writers some feedback, too. Have fun!