Every story needs a good, juicy conflict something that propels the narrative and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat. To create conflict, clever authors understand the power of inserting a villain to play the role of the story’s antagonist.

For centuries, writers have effectively used this trusted literary device a villain as a way of creating tension between the two main characters and driving the plot forward. To learn how to write a good villain into your novel or short story, read on!

What is a Villain?

The villain is the antagonist in a piece of fiction, playing the counterpart to the protagonist, or hero of the story. The friction created by the villain character, as he or she attempts to thwart the hero, is important to the story arc in these ways:

  • To provide sharp contrast between the antagonist and protagonist
  • To convey both sides of the broader topic or philosophy at the heart of the story
  • To add action to the story
  • To increase the level of suspense and conflict
  • To enhance the effects of the protagonist’s heroism
  • To engage the reader’s emotions

Villain Archetypes

Villains come in a variety of flavors or archetypes. In fact, although most villains are bad guys, not all of them are evil or detestable characters. Consider these different types of villains:

The Beast

The beast archetype is usually an actual monster or non-human entity. The beast poses a physical threat to the hero. Examples are Godzilla from the Godzilla books and the shark from Jaws.

The Mastermind

The mastermind archetype is also referred to as an evil genius, as they use their cunning intellect to outmaneuver the hero in their diabolical plot. Examples are Professor James Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes and Lex Luthor from Superman.

The Bully

The bully archetype is just that, a cruel bully who has no conscience about inflicting pain on the protagonist. Examples are Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series.

The Anti-Villain

Also sometimes called the sympathetic villain, the anti-villain archetype typically has good guy traits, although immoral tendencies. On the surface, they seem to be sympathetic, but underneath that exterior, they are unethical and conniving. Examples are Tywin Lannister from Game of Thrones and Brain from Pinky and the Brain.

The Femme Fatale

The femme fatale archetype features a female antagonist who possesses extraordinary beauty and charm that she uses to seduce, manipulate, or deceive the hero. Examples are Amy Dunne from Gone Girl and Brigid O’Shaughnessy from The Maltese Falcon.

How to Write a Good Villain

Now that you know the important role a villain plays in literature, it’s time to tackle the how as in how to write a good villain. Allow these handy tips to guide you in creating an unforgettable antagonist:

  1. Study Other Famous Villain Characters. You can learn a lot about villainy by studying famous well-written villains in literature. Make a trip to the library and grab a few classics, such as Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Doyle, and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading these will provide you with a solid understanding of which villain traits are most effective in a story.
  2. Consider the Context of Your Story. The villain should fit the context of the story, such as its setting, time period, and world. Both the genre and the context of your story will help you to decide which villain archetype is appropriate for the novel. 
  3. Experiment with Physical Traits. The villain archetype you select largely determines the character’s physical traits. For example, if you have created a femme fatale villainess, have some fun playing with various physical features and traits. If you are writing a beast archetype into your science fiction novel, get creative with its monster-like physical traits.
  4. Experiment with Personality and Backstory. Create a backstory for your villain, a past history that helps explain their evil nature. For instance, maybe they were bullied or victims of abuse in childhood, which resulted in a sadistic, untrusting, and cruel nature. Be creative in assigning memorable personality traits to your villain.
  5. Create Round Characters. A round character is complex, possessing both positive qualities and flaws in their nature. Make your villain a round character by building one that is multi-faceted and unpredictable. 

35 Villain Traits to Explore While Writing

As you conjure up your villain character, here are 35 interesting villain traits to consider. Remember, you want to create a memorable villain. Combine a few opposing traits to add complexity and intrigue to your villain. 

  • Cunning
  • Power hungry
  • Arrogant
  • Sinister
  • Manipulative
  • Cruel
  • Volatile
  • Revengeful
  • Educated
  • Intelligent
  • Narcissistic
  • Dishonest
  • Magnetic
  • Sociopathic
  • Inhumane
  • Selfish
  • Creepy
  • Complex
  • Articulate
  • Miserable
  • Ruthless
  • Unsympathetic
  • Paranoid
  • Controlling
  • Sadistic
  • Vain
  • Passionate
  • Exploitive
  • Fanatical
  • Destructive
  • Insincere
  • Charismatic
  • Hypocritical
  • Unstable
  • Brilliant

As you can see, writing a fascinating antagonist to face off with your protagonist can be a lot of fun. Getting creative with your villain character will make your novel that much more interesting  and impossible to put down.

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If you are in the process of writing a novel or short story, consider taking the self-publishing route for your book. Team up with the pros at Gatekeeper Press for a trusted source of publishing know-how and support. Reach out to them online today!