What’s your definition of a villain? According to the dictionary, a villain is someone who is cruel and malicious, and is involved in acts of wickedness and/or crime.

While our definition might be similar to the dictionary's, a villain is actually much more complex than what we think.

So what exactly is a villain?

A villain is an important character as he drives the plot, along with the hero. His actions and values oppose the hero's, who is often the protagonist, thus making the villain the antagonist.

Both are main characters, they are necessary for the story to progress and unfold. Imagine a story without a villain, there will be no climax or conflict; the hero might not even evolve and remain a static character as a result.

Interestingly, villains can take on two broad forms - physical or intangible.

Essentially, you can write about a person such as Lord Voldemort, the villain in the Harry Potter series, or you can write about a quality such as narcissism which was the villain in The Picture of Dorian Grey.

Without a solid and well-developed villain, your hero and story will fall flat.

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Difference between a villain and a hero?

The answer probably came to you quickly – the villain is evil and the hero is good.

That might be right, but it is also a one-dimensional way of thinking.

When writing and developing your characters, it is important to give dimension to your characters. They should not be flat — this means that your villain should not be entirely evil, and your hero should not be entirely good. There should be one trait that seems like it does not belong.

While we read and write from the point of view of the hero, who is the protagonist, we view the villain to be the antagonist as he is standing in the way of the former. However, if we read from the point of view of the villain, we might see that he sees himself as the protagonist in his own journey, and the hero thus becomes the antagonist.

Hence, it is a matter of perspective, which means that you should ensure that your villain and hero are not caricatures, and are well-developed.

How to create and write a villain?

Now that you understand the importance of having a well-written villain for your story to progress, you might be wondering what exactly makes up an interesting and convincing villain.

Here are a couple of tips and tricks to help you develop your villain:

  1. Have a clear and developed character profile
  2. Humanize the villain
  3. Proper linkages between villain and hero

1. Have a clear and developed character profile

A villain is as important as a hero for your story so do spend sufficient time developing him.

A character profile contains details of the character which includes his appearance, personality, qualities, morals and more.

Listed below are a few questions that you can ponder when developing your villain’s character profile:

  • How does he look like?
  • Does he have a clear set of morals, and if so, how does it differ from the norm/from the hero?
  • How did he come to have this set of morals?
  • Describe your villain with three characteristics, then list them as his main qualities
  • Brains or brawn?
  • What makes him stand out?
  • What differentiates your villain from your hero?
  • Does your villain have any grudges?

After you have developed a character profile, the villain will start to seem more well-rounded and less of a caricature.

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2. Humanize the villain

The next step is to craft a background story for your villain.

Develop a compelling background story for your villain to allow readers to sympathize and identify with.

This background story could account for your villain’s behavior and situation, which makes him more human. Remember that your villain should not be evil personified. He could be a product of his circumstance, and later on, his decisions.

Maybe your villain went through something terrible when he was younger that shaped him to become who he is today. Maybe your villain lost something or someone important to him.

As a result, rational thought leaves him, and he starts to view actions that are immoral to be justifiable, setting him on a whole other trajectory from your hero.

Consider showing how he went from being a virtuous character, to one with wicked tendencies and qualities. Detail his journey to becoming a villain.

By doing so, you make your character seem more real and believable, and thus, your readers will engage with the characters and story even more.

It’ll be even better if your villain is someone that your readers would hate to love — while they understand the villain’s motives and reasons behind the latter's actions, they have to disapprove of it as it goes against their moral compass.

3. Proper linkages between villain and hero

As the antagonist, your villain can be written as a character foil to your hero. By contrasting them, it provides you, the writer, with opportunities to write out conflicts between the two.

Conflicts are integral to the plot, and should be specific enough that both your villain and hero are invested in fighting against each other.

For instance, Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort had multiple conflicts, with both  trying to kill the other. The final conflict was at the end of the Battle of Hogwarts, which ended with Voldemort's death, so the hero triumphed.

Remember that a great villain should be strong and not easily beaten, providing your hero with a tough challenge. This will spur your hero on to a journey to improve himself. You could even give your villain small wins along the way to push your hero further.

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In a nutshell, if you want to write a convincing and compelling villain, ensure that he is the hero of his own story. If you find yourself convinced that he can be a protagonist of the story from another point of view, that would mean that you have managed to create and develop a three-dimensional villain. That is key to developing an intriguing and well-written villain.