Making a Good Villain
Creating a villain that isn’t just Evil
My wife and I were thinking about what makes villains good villains? And the answer we came up with was that whoever they are, they strongly believe they are doing the right thing, but the twist is, they just go slightly beyond the bounds of morality, which is what separates the hero and them.
If we take a look at some of the recent villains from Sci-Fi, like Khan in Star Trek from JJ Abrams’ movie called Into Darkness, then we see a man who just wants to save his family, much like Captain Kirk has to face as well, but Khan is willing to do some very immoral things in order to accomplish his mission. So it really becomes a question of morality which defines the hero’s decision.
Batman, at the end of Dark Knight, faces the decision whether to kill the Joker or not, and because he’s Batman, he decides to just leave him hanging there no matter how crazy he is because he has a moral code that he has to adhere to within himself.
So basically, a good villain has to have almost the same wants/desires/intentions as the hero, but has one moral character flaw that pushes him just pass the boundaries of OK.
This is an age old topic that I won’t get into here. But I was recently faced with a decision where I could go the higher ground and do something the right way, or go the easy route and just not work as hard by taking some short cuts. It was a classic decision of breaking the rules or not breaking the rules. And it just came down to which decision was I able to live with myself knowing the rest of my life?
I remember this quote from the West Wing with one of my favorite episodes where the President, as a young man, was faced with some of these tough decisions, and the White House secretary, Mrs. Landingham, actually had had a huge impact on him because she would say,
You know, if you don’t want to run again, I respect that. But if you don’t run because you think it’s gonna be too hard or you think you’re gonna lose, well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you.
So, I ultimately chose the higher path because you never know if that decision you made will lead to more opportunities in the future and the building of your character down the road.
But in the end, it’s whatever makes you happy.
The intentions of a good villain are always a little ambiguous because you can kind of see their point of view, they just take it one step too far.
You can almost relate to a villain because they are so passionate about their cause, they just sort of go about it the wrong way.
Avoid one dimensional villains
Sometimes villains can be too 1 dimensional because they are just pure evil or they just do things to be evil. No one on earth really wants to be evil, they get to be that way because of a strong reason. Whether it’s their background, or their upbringing, or some traumatic event, but a villain who is just evil to be evil’s sake is too one-sided.
You may ask, “But hey! I know some people that used to bully me that just wanted to be mean just to be mean!”
But I would challenge you and say that bullies actually have very strong issues of their own, and they’re just trying to exert their control over other because of a complex where they lack control of their own lives at home.
Severus Snape is a great example of ambiguity and serves as one of Harry’s many “adversaries” in the beginning books of Harry Potter. The actor Alan Rickman almost didn’t want to play him because he didn’t want to play another villain, but JK Rowling had to explain his deeply troubled past and his true intentions which helped him see that he wasn’t just a bad guy, but a passionate person that had just taken many bad turns and choices.
So a villain that has depth is a fantastic villain, or even a person where you don’t even know if they are good or bad, just a little ambiguous can be a great starting point to build a believable character that can move you just as much as the hero does in your story.
The next time you make a villain for your story, ask, “What does he really want?” Make it almost a noble cause, then just add one fatal immoral approach to achieving their goal, and you should be off on a good start! :)