You’re in the trenches of your first draft, getting down all those plot points and character development scenes, and you think “This is great, I’m on a roll!” – until you hit that brick wall. You’ve constructed this astonishing world with courageous heroes, but what are they supposed to be up against? A dragon? A talking vegetable patch? Possessed socks? No! You need a bonafide villain (to be fair, all those things could be a villain as well)! But you don’t want just any old villain. You want one that will be memorable, someone – or thing – that will stick in the reader’s mind. One that will make your audience silently root for them even when they know it is so wrong. How does one create that experience?
Some of the best kinds of villains are the ones that still retain human energies: they have/had a family, dreams they aspired to, mentors they look up to. These are the ones that started out as decent people and somehow wound up commanding the legions of the dead. They make you question if they were actually evil from the get go, or if their intentions followed the wrong brick road and landed them face to face with the protagonist.
Creating a villain that people can empathize with means showing your reader that they have good and bad qualities, allowing their own story to unfold parallel to the protagonist, and making them feel unique to the world they live in. Exhibit that they don’t kick dogs or make babies cry – maybe they adopt strays and look after orphaned children. While the hero was raised on a farm with lots of siblings, maybe the villain had a royal upbringing and was an only child. They must grow as your hero does, or they risk falling flat like warm soda.
A villain that has understandable motives and goals, perhaps even relatable, pulls your audience into your story and lets their mind wander through all the possibilities and “what ifs” without you having to do much of the heavy lifting. It also creates questions like, if that one deplorable thing in their life had never come to fruition, would they still be a wrongdoer? Or would they have ended up in the hero boots instead?
Your scoundrel does not have to have the secret lair and hairless cat to fulfill their role – they just need to be real enough to create havoc, which in turn creates the demand for a hero. By building up your baddies, you add life to your story, which in turns gives the reader a more realistic journey to follow. The more depth you add to them, the greater the experience!