Hero vs. Villain: What makes a good villain? How do you create the perfect character?
Creating a good hero is easy–everybody loves a hero. But I believe most of us are reluctant to admit that we love a good villain just as much. I admit it, freely, that I love a worthy villain more so than a hero—that I always seem to find myself rooting for the bad guys. Sometimes, I think that perhaps there’s something wrong with me—or that I’m simply a perverse person, but whatever the reason, I admit to Darth Vader being my hero.
The one’s we love to hate…you know the ones. Darth Vader, Hans Gruber from Die Hard, Hannibal Lecter, Loki from the Thor movies, The Joker from Batman, Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes, and even Michael Corleone from The God Father. All of these characters are some of the most noted movie villains. But what makes these villains so notable, I ask? Historically, villains have been sinister characters with some sort of ax to grind—characters with some ulterior motive that isn’t typically revealed until much later in the plot of a movie or book. But what I believe makes these particular villains so notable, is their sheer worthiness as an opponent. In order for a hero to succeed in heroism, they must first have a purpose—typically in the form of a worthy villain. I’m not speaking of a petty two-bit criminal who perhaps knocks over convenience stores or sells drugs, but a bonafide villain with large-scale intensions—such as bringing mankind to its doom. Did I already mention that Lord Vader was my hero? Best. Villain. Ever.
In writing, we tend to put a lot of energy into our main characters and heroes; but what about our villains? How do we create memorable and worthy villains? It is my belief that in order for a villain to obtain worthy status, they must first possess particular characteristics. Let’s face it, for a villain to be worth his salt, he must first and foremost be a bit of a psychopath. Check! Only a psychopath can be egotistical enough to devise a monumentally evil plan, and believe without a doubt that they can pull it off. Other must-have characteristics include an above average intelligence—because we all know there’s a fine line between genius and crazy, equally attractive and repelling qualities, a duplicitous nature, a vengeful streak, a tendency to struggle with the small corner of humanity that he has remaining, determination, and of course, motivation. A good villain will be charismatic and persuasive enough to draw you in, while at the same time, planning your doom. Didn’t Michael Corleone in The God Father kiss his brother Fredo and tell him he loved him—setting his mind at ease, right before sending him off in the boat to be killed? A good villain should be clever, and possess many of the characteristics of the hero—only he uses them for evil rather than good.
Above all else, a worthy villain must have motivation–a driving force behind his actions. Why is this villain out for blood–why has he devised his evil plan in the first place? Perhaps he’s avenging a loved one, or he wants to destroy his childhood nemesis–or perhaps he just simply wants world domination. Whatever it is, much like a hero, a worthy villain must have a cause that fuels his actions. Of course, he’s evil and will have to be brought to justice–or perhaps not, but a worthy villain should not be easily conquered or taken down.
As I stated in the beginning, creating a hero is easy. All you need is a “good guy” with admirable characteristics, bravery, a cape, and a good evil plan to foil. Boring… As a writer, I’d much rather create a worthy villain—one with both charisma and charm, but also with a dark soul that allows him to do unspeakable evil. This character will ultimately be much more complex and interesting, and a heck of a lot more fun to create. And just to keep it more interesting and to give a story plot a good twist, I believe that the same villain principles can also be applied to our heroes—or even our main female protagonists. The role of evil villain is not limited to male characters; women also make kick-butt villains. Think Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in the movie Misery. One of my all-time favorite female villains!
Are you partial to villains or heroes? What characteristics do you believe important in creating a worthy villain? Who are some of your favorite, most memorable villains?
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