Seven Tips on Creating a Fantastic Fantasy Villain
After reading Amy Rose’s terrific article on Antihero-vs-Villain we can look deeper into what Fantasy authors might like to consider when crafting our bad guys.
Tip I: The archetypical villain, dastardly and devious, comes from the pantomime stage. When writing Fantasy we need to look for an antagonist who will keep our readers hooked. The villain needs therefore, to have some redeeming aspects of their character.
Remember that average bad guys don’t see themselves as evil. They have purpose and although their means and actions might be malevolent, their intentions can be purely selfish. As long as your villains can justify their behavior, seeing their actions as logical and working towards a certain goal, they can still be frightening and threatening, but their character can also sustain some empathy and interest in the reader. A villain like Hannibal Lector can be more disturbing because he sees his behavior as rational. (Although he’s not from Fantasy, he’s a recognizable character with a creepy habit that he thinks is justifiable.)
A strong motive can give the most dastardly villain some credibility.
Tip II: To create a Lovable Villain you need to make them characters with whom readers can relate. There are ways of doing this that will help our readers empathise with the most miserable antagonist.
Villains can own their own set of injustices. If they feel they are ‘hard done by’, by society, life or circumstance, they not only have an understandable reason for maladjusted behaviour, but they will have enough logic for their actions to allow the reader to have some sympathy towards their plight. From a single human frailty, such as fear, jealousy, or loneliness your villain can still generate evil but they will also have at least one character trait for a reader to relate to. Child abuse, neglect, ridicule in their early life could well influence a villain’s lack of self esteem and arouse a sense of sympathy from the reader.
Tip III: When creating a fantastic Villain, the author can give their character all the dreadful determination that in every day life we keep leashed.
For example, when rage raises its ugly presence we can wish evil upon someone. What makes us reasonable people is that we do not carry out our wishes.
We can though, have a villain take their worst intentions to heart and act on them. Where a reasonable soul would rage and then simmer, finally allowing logic to rule their lives, our antagonist can take their rage and act on it. Even to over react and devise and enact those dastardly deeds that will keep the reader hoping justice is finally served. When the villain takes payback and revenge too far, when they fail to keep within limits of behavior that are reasonable, that’s when their behavior becomes villainous and dastardly.
An example of a villain whose actions are malicious and whose diabolical plan keeps the reader hoping for retribution is the arch villain in the Chronicles of Caleath. Throughout the series, readers keep asking if and when will the hero finally defeat/meet his nemesis. I take that as a sign of having created a great ‘bad guy’.
Creating a ‘good’ villain can also involve working with a character that the reader might feel is worthy of redemption. One type might be the villain who is outraged on behalf of a brother, an underdog maybe, a friend who refuses to fight back etc. and metres out his own form of justice on other bad guys or he might put his own life on the line for a friend. A heroic villain. So the evil done on behalf of a lesser being, seems justified and almost laudable behavior because the subject of the horror deserves their fate. So from the villain’s POV they are behaving with good intentions. This takes us to our next tip.
Tip IV: Creating Villains that readers love to hate can come from having them start out with good intentions. If their plans get out of control, or their ideas become too aggressive they can become the ‘bad guy’ even though their original goals were motivated by good intentions.
The Nazgûl in Lord of the Rings were once kings who wanted to use the gift of their rings for good but were overwhelmed by the power and evil force behind the gift. The more power, more pressure the character is under to remain incorruptible. The temptation to change things and become godlike increases as power is obtained and can lead to the villain’s descent in to evil.
The idea that ‘all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is one adage we can use when creating an evil nemesis for a Fantasy novel. Good intentions can be warped when things become too easy, or the power too heady for a character to control. Losing sight of the goal, having a character turn from good to evil, can create a great villain.
Tip V: How many times have you been reading a book or watching a movie and the bad give the hero a break, whether intentionally or by accident or they do something too stupid to be believable?
If the villain relies on being dumb for the hero to succeed there is a major flaw in the character.
A villain who stops to explain their diabolical plans and in doing so gives the hero a means of escape, just doesn’t cut it.
Although it might have worked in the spy thriller’s written by Ian Fleming and the films of that genre, in Fantasy we need to have antagonists who are consistent in their villainy. They need motive and they also need to be worthy opponents to a worthwhile hero. Don’t sell them out for less.
Tip VI: For a simple effective way to scare children try using a female who doesn’t display motherly attributes. These characters can be very scary. It is the archetypical bad ‘Witch’ (and evil step mother) which fits Fantasy well.
And as we are told more and more often, at present the strong female lead characters are popular, so the strong female villain is becoming popular too.
Tip VII: is really a rehash of Point Two. Too many villains are based on characters who just want power for the sake of power. They need to have some motivation or redeeming trait that gives them a reason for their villainy. How many times have you watched or read a story and found at the end a feeling of disbelief? The disbelief comes from knowing that the antagonist didn’t have the three dimensional quality to hold the audience.
Discerning readers will return to a great story and a villain they can feel might have some justification for their actions, will help bring them back, or keep them hooked to the last page.
Strong motivation… that’s the key to creating a Fantastic Fantasy villain.
Title Image by allentotingski