Audiences love a good villain. This is very important to keep in mind because a good villain brings so much to a story: conflict, stakes, fear, excitement, humor. Here are five great ways to build a better villain:
1) Make sure your villain will do anything to stop your hero from what getting what he or she wants. And by anything, I mean anything, however crazy or ruthless. Remember how Jaime pushes the young Bran Stark out the window in Game of Thrones? That ruthless. Without this, you will never have a screenplay that will hold your audience to the end.
2) Make sure your villain has a clear goal and believes that he or she is the hero of the story. All characters must believe they are in the right, but this holds especially true for your villain. This character must sincerely believe he or she deserves to succeed, whether she is the Wicked Witch of the West and wants to kill Dorothy or is Virgil Sollozzo and wants to whack the Godfather.
3) Your villain must be charming and have some unusual characteristics. Hannibal Lector is cultured and erudite even though he’s a bloodthirsty cannibal. He is also deep, philosophical, and suffers from not having a window in his cell. Details like these help to humanize a villain and make he or she much more interesting and attractive to your audience.
4) Pick an unlikely villain. Audiences often like to watch a story where they don’t know “whodunnit,” so you may consider keeping your true villain a mystery until the end. This of course this varies from genre to genre, but it’s a great technique for adding tension and keeping your audience on the edge of their seat.
5) Give your villain memorable or signature details that everyone can relate to. More than 20 years later, everyone still talks about Hannibal Lector’s reminiscences about eating someone with “fava beans and a nice Chianti.” Snidely Whiplash has his signature laugh. Unique and surprising details like these make your villain fascinating and irresistible to watch.
So, when building a better villain, make sure he or she is totally human and relatable, is convinced that he or she is in the right, and is willing to do anything—absolutely anything—to stop your hero!
Here’s to Your Successful Writing!
Professor Marilyn Horowitz