What Makes A Villian


Welcome back to the blog. Last week’s piece on the nature of show largely came about due to seeing other writers struggle with that concept. As such, I’ve done some musing on other essential concepts of writing that I see young writers struggle with. So today, I want to discuss an essential concept of storytelling that can be a problem for many writers- the villain.

Making The Bad Guy Look Good

The main driving force of any story is conflict. And while many stories have that conflict in different ways (internal, conflict with an environment), the villain is the most common force to create conflict. Many writers confuse the villain with the atagonist, or opposing force to the main character (protagonist). While this is often true, the terms are not exclusive, and writers can focus on the villain as the protagonist with ease. But regardless, a villain must create conflict with the hero or opposing force. To make this effective, a writer has several options to craft a memorable villain

Dark Reflection

Some of the most striking villains maintain their opposition by still having similarities to their opposite number. However, the villain in this case functions as a road not taken, a vision of the hero if they had made different choices and become evil. A classic example is Venom and Spider-Man; aside from their similar designs and powers, their civilian lives are close to identical. Both are photojournalists, but while Peter Parker is honest, Eddie Brock falsifies his story, which leads to his eventual firing. At the same time, Brock’s powers as Venom are derived from an alien costume previously worn by Parker. While the suit caused Parker to nearly turn to the dark side and reject it, Brock embraced it, becoming a full evil reflection and a reminder to Spider Man of the dangers of the dark side.


This is a type of villain that works by not being seen. He or she will be in charge of a great power; an army, magic, or even a ruling government. While the hero may struggle against various evil figures, all of them will be subservient to a far greater evil, which the hero must battle towards. Usually, this villain is kept in mystery, allowing the hero and reader to speculate on just who and what this person might be. Excellent examples of this are the Emperor from Star War or Fire Lord Ozai from Avatar: The Last Airbender. Both were characters that largely worked from the shadows (at least in the original Star Wars Trilogy) and while acknowledged as the driving force of evil, kept hidden from the audience, until they finally emerged to prove that all the evil attributed to them was justified.

Best Friend

This is a villain that can be a treasure trove for writers. A best friend is a character that to the outside world, is trustworthy and good, but has a dark secret that will cause them to betray everyone. However, just how that happens is a wide range of options. The writer can present their betrayal as a shock, or show it to the reader and no one else. Writers can also use these characters to create twists, by keeping the villain a mystery or even through the use of red herrings (characters designed to throw the reader off course). And once the revelation is complete, the writer can then explore the drama of having a trusted person betray his or her comrades. There have been many examples of this throughout literature, but a more recent example comes from Disney’s recent animated film Frozen. This film not only makes use of a red herring, but the reveal of its villain is not only unexpected and hurtful, but upon a second viewing of the film, all the details of the turn are given in subtle hints that effectively tricked the viewer.

The Opposite

The most obvious type of villain. This is a character that simply put, is everything the hero is not. This can be shown in many ways- old vs. young, kindness vs. ruthlessness, normal vs. magic. However, there are other twists as well, especially if there is an aspect of the villain that the hero could benefit from. For example, a hero could be doubtful of themselves, while the villain is convinced of their superiority. By having the hero defeat the villain, the hero gains self-confidence while the villain is punished for arrogance. There are many other versions, but for a few good examples, check out Frodo Baggins vs. Sauron from Lord of the Rings, Delta House vs. Omega House in Animal House, and Optimus Prime vs. Megatron from Transformers.

Of course, a villain is only as good as the hero they face. But don’t worry, dawn is coming next week.


Posted on January 30, 2014, in Inspiration, Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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