Saturday, April 23, 2011

Villains: What Makes Them Memorable?

What makes a good, memorable bad guy? This is a question I’ve often asked myself for my own writing, and today, I will attempt to answer it.
After some thought, and reading, I’ve come up with a few reasons:
·         Morals
·         Character Development
·         Quirks
·         Acts

Morals. Some villains do things for selfish, personal reasons, like, for example, Scar from Disney’s The Lion King (Based off the Shakespearian play ‘Hamlet’). Scar was next in line for the throne, “…until the little hairball came along.” So what’s he do? He attempts to kill both his brother and Simba. Then he ends up destroying his home when he does become king. But he doesn’t believe he should step down when Simba challenges him years later, despite overhunting and causing the Pride Lands to die. Granted, Scar is a bit of a one-dimensional character, but his motives were clearly selfish.
Other villains, however, reach for higher goals. They are motivated to create a better world for those around them, or stop something “terrible” from happening to the world. They become heroes in their own eyes, never thinking what they’re doing is morally wrong but, instead, necessary. Like the hero, they have motives and are fighting for a cause they believe is right.
For example, in the Hero’s Journey plot, (examples of this plot are J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings) the villain is often given an ambiguous or incomplete prophecy that says the world (or a major part of the world, such as economics and trade) will be affected or destroyed. So, as the hero moves to fulfill this prophecy, the villain tries to stop the hero and keep the world as it is.
To find your villains morals, find out his purpose in the story. Is he trying to stop a prophecy, trying to help the world? Or is it a more personal matter that creates this character into a villain in the hero’s eyes?
Character Development   
Villains can also be memorable because of the way he or she is written. We, in a way, understand the villain just as we might understand the hero. In Jodi Picoult’s court drama, Nineteen Minutes, Peter Houghton—a boy who, one day, begins shooting in his school due to physical and verbal bullying—is portrayed as a villain by several victims and distraught parents of children involved in the shooting and by the court, yet Picoult writes of Peter’s experiences as a victim to let the reader see his side of the story, what motivated him to bring a gun to school and shoot several students. In this way, by the end of the novel, I felt sympathy rather than the horror I should have felt. In a way, I understood the character’s motives.
Basically, develop your villain just as you would your hero. Know their past, their family, favourite color or food—anything you can think of that’s relevant to the story—and use it to flesh your villain out, making him or her a competent, worthy villain to do battle against your hero.
Quirks. We all have them—the way we might chew our pens when we think, or when we crack our knuckles when we fidget, or maybe pace when we are nervous. Likewise villains might have similar quirks or habits that distinguish them from other villains or heroes. Like Darth Vader’s raspy breathing in “Star Wars”, or the Joker’s maniacal laughter in the Batman movies.
To find your villains quirks, this is where you get to have some fun. Depending on your character and the feel you want for the villain, this could be a way for him/her to stick in your readers minds, especially if the habit or quirk is...a bit odd for what he does.
The first thing I think of when I think of villains—remembering them based purely on acts—is the shark from “Jaws”. Personally, I only saw a bit of the film, but it was enough to swear me off that film since. Like the saying 'Actions speak louder than words'; this should be true for your villain. He or she can’t be all talk and no show. There should be something physical, something that sets the book in motion and causes your hero to react, causes them to try and stop it. Whether it be as simple as an argument or as catastrophic as a murder, your villain has to act, do something scary or at least something your reader (and hero) dreads. And, in this way, you get a story—a series of actions and reactions that build to a climax, where the hero finally proves his worth.
I challenge you to flesh out your own villain. Try and find out their morals, quirks, to develop them, to find out their acts and justify them. Hopefully, building up and fleshing out these particular points, you can create a memorable villain, who is every bit as real as your hero.
Thanks for reading!
- Maddie


  1. I was waiting to see you do a post like this. LOL. Awesome job, and very well written!


  2. I love the Disney example. The Lion King is one of my faves and I really like Scar despite him being a villain LOL. Great post!

  3. I love it when authors make their villians memorable enough that a simple quote can bring the story back to mind. This was something I needed to read, especially since I'm trying my hand at some new writing. Thank you!

  4. My stories don't have the usual type of villains. Well, not like they pop up in fantasy. Brett in YFAD could be considered the viallian but he is a more everyday realistic one. Lol. Still, I do give him his quirks and I liked the examples you used. I love the Lion King too :) Awesome post!

  5. Making great villains may even be tougher than developing the hero. Great post!


  6. Found this really interesting - I have a villain I want to make more memorable and this has given me a clearer idea of how to sharpening him up. Thanks!

  7. Cool post Maddie. I love the examples you used. LOL on the Jaws bit :) I was terrified of that movie when I was younger.



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