How to create an unforgettable villain? (Secrets to A Good Antagonist)

In this post, we go in-depth on how to create an unforgettable villain.

What is a Villain in Storytelling?

Everyone knows a good villain when they see one. That's why having a memorable villain is a key factor in storytelling success.

So let's start with a couple of ideas of what an antagonist, or villain, is:

Villains can be described as "wicked". The definition of wicked is essentially "wicked beings, those who like to do evil".

A Villain is also commonly referred to as the "antagonist" or "adversary". Generally, this means that they are The Hero's opponent. Despite this, the antagonist doesn't necessarily have to be evil.

In case you don't know, "evil" is when two or more beings with different "ways of living" clash.

How to Create an Unforgettable Villain

Have you ever thought that the antagonist is often the most interesting character in a story?

This happens when a good writer creates a multi-dimensional villain using the following principles:

The Villain is an embodiment of The Hero's flaw. This is why The Hero tends to be very emotionally affected by their adversary. The antagonist represents The Hero's internal conflict; what The Hero needs to overcome within themselves in order to reach their goal.

The theme of the story lends itself to the clash of Hero and Villain. This involves a clash between the Hero's vision and the Villain's vision. Sometimes this involves The Hero feeling torn between two paths—following their own true essence or giving in to temptation.

Because The Villain can tempt The Hero with capabilities, influence, and false promises, the reader can get the sense that The Villain has a lot to offer as a mentor. A popular example of this is Emperor Palpatine.

The Secret to Writing Good Antagonists

What makes a good clash between a "good guy" and a "bad guy" is the underlying principles they represent.

This is much less about writing a good bad guy

It is about the debate of ideas.

As mentioned earlier, "evil" is the clash of two or more opposing "ways of living".

For example, if you want your story to explore the concept of pacifism, you would write a story about a Hero and a Villain who both seek peace in different ways. The Hero seeks peace through non-violent protest, while the Villain seeks peace through war.

The end goal is the same, but the approach is different.

A good villain provides the reader with a satisfying confrontation of these two opposing ideas.

Should we create an evolving villain?

The answer is "no." In most stories, The Villain has already completed his transformational journey. This explains why he is more powerful than The Hero. His decisions have been made, and he no longer hesitates.

It may, however, waver during the final confrontation with The Hero. Contaminated by the protagonist's new resolve, the Villain may be led to doubt, believing that he has made the wrong decision.

This realization will weaken him, and that break in resolve is the only opening The Hero needs.

Some villains, on the other hand, are extremely hesitant. This is common with series villains who alternate between protagonist and antagonist. Examples include Jaha and Kane in The 100, Jaime in Game of Thrones, etc.

Look at your story and ask yourself if having an evolving villain contributes anything to your theme and story.

Make certain that you do not write a cliche!

3 Tips on How to Avoid Villain Clichés

When writing a story, make a list of other stories with similar themes to yours. Analyze their villains and try to offer something unique by asking the following three questions:

  1. What angle or perspective hasn't been addressed in a satisfying way?
  2. What kind of villain, or mixture of villains, could be interesting?
  3. For my story, what is a good archetype to start with?
how-to-create-an-unforgettable-villain-the-secret-of-good-antagonists

How To Create a Villain That Will Outlive You

What made villains like Dracula, Voldemort, Dorian Gray, the Joker, Darth Vader, and Thanos such well-known, memorable characters?

Their humanity.

A bad person isn't bad for the sake of it. A villain has plans and goals they want to achieve.

And the more relatable and understanding, a villain's motivations are, the more the reader will care about them. Regardless of how controversial The Villain's perspective is.

For example, Thanos from the movie Avengers: Infinity War is an example of a memorable villain. Why does he seem so interesting?

Aside from the tragedy he's imposed on other characters, his goal is understandable to much of the audience. He is also relatable in the sense that he truly believes in his cause and will pay the price to achieve his goal.

His goal is to protect natural resources and put the universe back into balance. The price to pay is half the world.

You're also presented with the idea that sacrificing some people is worth it if it means saving the rest.

This difficult discussion surrounding his motivations is part of what makes him interesting.

How to Use The Unconscious to Write a Good Villain

To make a villain that people will remember, you need to know how the mind works, regarding storytelling, on three levels:

The Conscious Mind is the part that has intentional objectives and motivations.

The Unconscious Mind holds the part of motivations that are unseen, but influenced by our environment, culture, traumas, life experiences, and so on.

The Denied/Repressed aspects of the villain can be something they are aware of, but not willing to accept about themselves. When this happens, The Villain will persuade themselves that this defect is a quality is a good thing. This quality tends to be on the extreme or excessive side.

Does a memorable villain need a traumatic past?

There's nothing like a good traumatic story to give an antagonist depth and help explain why he acts the way he does.

But does this mean that a memorable villain has to have had a traumatic past?

No.

The Villain's past can be happy (and so can their present). An example of this would be a villain who has grown up with rich privilege and the arrogance to think they know what's better for the rest of society.

Slipping in a few traumatic moments from the villain's past can help explain how he or she went from "good" to "evil" (Ex. The Joker from Batman, Walter White from Breaking Bad, etc.) This helps the reader to understand the villain's point of view.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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