Wizard World Comic Con invited me to speak on the panel Villains vs. Villains with authors Genese Davis, Jack Burgos, and RA Jones last month, and I loved it! We had a great time talking about what makes a villain likable, memorable, or just plain evil. Today, since I know so many of you couldn’t make it, I thought I’d share some of the awesome points brought up during the discussion.
First, there are so many different ways to tackle a villain. In regards to creating a person as the villain (rather than society or nature), you have the evil villain, the villain we love to hate, the sympathetic villain, the group of villains, and more. But here are my top three rules to keep in mind when creating any type of villain for your novel.
1. The Villain is the Hero in Their Own Book
Much like the sidekicks do not exist just to support the hero—as they say, your friends don’t exist just to support you, right?—the villain follows the same rule. They do not exist just to antagonize the hero. They have their own lives, desires, wishes, and fears. In my opinion, the best villains are the ones who believe they are the hero. If you had to write the story from their side, you could (even if you don’t agree with them). A great example of this is…history. Just look at the years and decades that came before us. Some of the worst, most vile human beings thought they were doing the right thing. A modern example of this is Valentine in The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare.
2. Avoid Clichés
I hate hate HATE the scorned woman villain trope. In fact, I hate the scorned man villain trope, too. Just because their lover—or their family—dies in the beginning, they become this crazy, evil maniac (generally for WORLD DOMINATION and REVENGE), and it becomes…yawn. Why? I think it’s a little silly. (And I say this as someone who has lost a mother, a friend, and more.) While revenge is A-okay in my villain book, I think we can tone it down from WORLD DOMINATION and get a little more personal, like—I don’t know—ruining one person’s life? Some clichés that were brought up included evil British doctors, (doctors of any sort, actually), and those that are just plain offensive, like people with disabilities who are evil because of their disabilities. (Please. Seriously. Stop.) Like with writing any character, research is key. Make sure you’re writing a genuine person who adds to the market in a unique way.
3. Overall Storyline
The villain doesn’t always have to lose. They could also tell the story or become good by the end. I’m dying for a book where the villain and hero become best friends (whether or not that’s a good thing or not), and I love it when the relationships between a hero and villain blurs. One of my favorite examples of this that I’m currently watching is The K2, a KDrama where the hero and villain have quite the interesting dynamic. Which brings me to my next point.
Read books outside your favorite genre. Try reading the original comic books of those movies you’ve seen. Watch shows you wouldn’t normally try. Personally, I love KDramas and anime, and I think they have some awesome examples of villains that I don’t see as much of in Western shows. By expanding your palate on genres, mediums, and cultures, you will expand your understanding on creating villains, destroying villains, and more. If you read and watch the same types of stories over and over, you will most likely write the same types of villains.
So who wants a writing prompt?
Let’s take the villains we love to hate. How do you create one? One brought up by our crowd was Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. Honestly, she’s always reminded me that super strict substitute teacher everyone hated in middle school. So, here’s your prompt. Take an average everyday role and exaggerate it to villain status. In Umbridge’s case, she could’ve started off as that substitute teacher. Figure out what annoys you at the core (in this case, “by the book” rules, even when those rules can be destructive or harmful or hurtful). Try someone who is nosy. Try someone who is stuck-up or cruel. Play with “good” roles, too. If you have a great coach for instance, you can also have a terrible one. Any role can be a good one to play with when it comes to creating a villain. It’s all about their personality…and how evil they can get.
Now go take over the world.
P.S. Thanks for having me, Wizard World Comic Con! I had an absolute blast! If anyone is curious about their 2017 schedule, check it out by clicking here. I’m excited to announce that I’m working with the convention to return next year. We will see! Keep your fingers crossed for me. I am working hard to travel more and speak at different events around the country. If you’re a reader and want me at an event near you, be sure to e-mail their staff and let them know! Your input helps! (And I will love you forever.)
Also, I’ll be at YALLFest in Charleston, South Carolina THIS Saturday! If you want to meet up, just shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to see you!