How to Write: Bad Guys and Villains





Or, why the bad guy doesn’t think he’s bad.

[NB. I’m using “he”, but please take this as non-gender and -species specific; Evil Masterminds of Doom can be anyone or anything, after all.]

So, your villain. He wants to Take Over The World, Kill Everyone, Create An Army of The Undead, or *insert plot here*. Ok, that’s great! Gives the hero something to fight against. But he wants to do all that simply because…he’s Evil?

Really? That’s it?

There are no true Bad Guys

If history has shown anything, it’s that the bad guys don’t think they’re bad. The only difference between The Evil Dictator Who Destroyed The World and The Benevolent Ruler Who Brought Us Peace is what stories get told and what people believe. There’s always motivations and drivers behind the worst of actions; we might judge them as insane or warped, but very few things are ever done on a whim.

What’s their background?

Real motivations make for exceptionally awesome villains. Yes, you can have base motives – revenge, or lust, or desire for power – but give them some background. Why do they hate big-footed dwarves so much? How did they get hold of the technology to create sharks with frickin’ lasers on their heads? Why do their minions trust them? And didn’t someone notice that Maniacal Laugh sooner?

Tie into the bigger world

The idea of rationality behind evil feeds into worldbuilding, too. Where’s the money coming from to buy all those Mechanised Soldiers Of Doom? Is the Super Baddy actually a good enough leader to keep hold of power once he’s gained it? What do you do to stop the Undead Hordes from getting bored once you’ve conquered wherever it is? And if you Kill All Humans, won’t it get a bit boring around here?

Tie into the protagonist

The Evil Baddy Killed Someone Our Hero Loved! Bonus cliche points if the Baddy didn’t even notice. A personal tie between the hero and Mr Evil is nice, but can turn into a sob story. Have a look at history; what’s actually motivated people to crusade? Lee Harvey Oswald, Martin Luther King, Ghandi, Oliver Cromwell…what’s made people stand up and fight for something they believed in and wanted? Why is the protagonist acting against the baddy, and why is the baddy acting as he is?

I know all of the above are quite exaggerated examples, but clichés are very easy to slip into for villains. They need to be as real and as understandable as your heroes are; we need to be able to see why they’re doing what they are doing – even if we disagree with it!

After all, the best villain could be a hero – just not in this version of the story.

Green Sky & Sparks

by Kate Coe

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Find yourself transported to a different world. The author really draws you in with her descriptions. I felt as though I could picture the whole landscape.
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Kate Coe

Author at writingandcoe
I'm a writer of fiction and fantasy, and I blog at writingandcoe.co.uk In real life I’m a librarian with a background in classics and law, I live with an engineer and very grumpy bearded dragon, and I fill my spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). I also read far fewer books that I'd like to, but possibly more than I really have time for.
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