Posted by: Phil Anderson | July 21, 2013

Creating Villains

The antagonist is an integral part of almost every story. Without him there’s no conflict, and the hero has little opportunity to demonstrate heroism. He provides opposition and generates obstacles that the hero must overcome. Often the villain is the one who keeps the plot moving along, and sometimes the one who sets it in motion at the outset. He is key to the success of the hero and generally of the whole story. But what is it that makes a good bad guy?

Greg Weisman, one of my favorite contemporary writers, has said that a great villain is “a true counter-posing force to the hero.” They have a common aspect which is contrasted or juxtaposed to create a connection within their opposition. For example, both Batman and Joker wear strange costumes and operate outside the law, but the Batman represents order while the Joker represents chaos. Or in Greg’s own animated series, Gargoyles, Goliath epitomizes medieval morality while Xanatos exemplifies modern-day amorality. In my first novel, the protagonist is both the hero and the villain, the ultimate connection; Dave battles against the greed and temptation within himself.

In addition to the villain being complimentary to the hero, I think its also important that he be believable. In working on my next novel, the first in a series, I have spent much more time thinking about the antagonist and his mindset and motivations than about all three protagonists combined. His is the plan that the heroes are reacting to; his strategy makes the entire plot line convincing. I have trouble taking seriously a villain who is evil just for the sake of being evil. He has to be sympathetic, whether he’s misguided, or his ends-justify-the-means methods are questionable, or he simply has different priorities than everyone around him. And if he’s given a chance at redemption and an opportunity to relent or repent, his choice to remain in his villainy or to denounce the dark side can make any antagonist that much more intriguing.

As a writer trying to create compelling characters, I can look to the example of the Ultimate Creator. In the Biblical story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, the Pharaoh is a fascinating antagonist in his vain struggle to maintain control of his kingdom and its slaves. He has a personal relationship with Moses (both were raised in the royal household), his disregard for God is completely understandable in light of his presumed devotion to his own Egyptian gods, and despite numerous warnings from Moses he stubbornly refused to concede to the Hebrew slaves and their foreign God.

What about you? Who are your favorite villains and why? Leave a comment below and start a conversation.

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Responses

  1. […] written previously about creating characters, and more specifically about creating villains, but that’s just one step in the writing process. These fictional people also need a place to […]


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