QOTM: All about Villains!

Hey guys, it’s Kat! I hope you all had a great week 🙂 For those of you who have been reading Pub Crawl/Let the Words Flow (as we used to be known way back when), you might remember we used to do Questions of the Week, where a number of us here at the blog would all answer one reader-submitted question, offering a variety of insight.

Well, it’s been a while since we did a QOTW, but we decided to bring the feature back. However, QOTW is a bit of a misnomer, since we’ll probably be doing them more like once a month…so now they’re called Questions of the Month!

The question we’ll be discussing this Friday is: “In your opinion, what makes a great villain? And how do you go about crafting your own villains?”

Erin Bowman

Erin Bowman It’s really important to me that a villain’s motives make sense. This doesn’t mean that I ever agree with his/her actions, just that however evil or wrong or misguided the villain is, I can at least get inside his/her head and see where they’re coming from. Example: Voldemort was so terrifying because his obsession with pure-bloods and the cleansing of the Wizarding race felt real. His racism ran deep, and I could see what he was trying to attempt and why. Every villain is the hero of his/her own story, and the protagonist is the antagonist in our villain’s eyes. I always try to keep this in mind when writing.

Stephanie Garber

Stephanie Garber Don’t leave your villains lurking in the shadows; I think it’s important to give villain’s plenty of page time. I used to be a huge fan of the television show The Vampire Diaries. One thing I loved about that show was that their villains were never part time. They were active characters, always causing problems, killing people, directly tormenting the MCs. It was awesome! I think this also made the villains on The Vampire Diaries feel more powerful because they weren’t afraid to show their faces, and during many of these confrontations they would win.

I think that ideally your villain and your MC should have a relationship arc—just like the other arcs in your story. And if you take the time to map out something like this, it’s going to ensure your villain does more than just randomly pop up everyone once in a while.

S. Jae-Jones (JJ)

JJ I think what makes a great villain is some sort of quality that makes him or her seductive and/or attractive. I don’t mean that the villain needs to be incredibly good-looking; I mean that the villain needs charisma. Something about the villain needs to draw followers, not just his/her minions, but the reader as well. Intelligence, persuasive speech, cunning, intimidating presence, etc. all make for a compelling antagonist. If you can understand why the villain’s underlings are devoted to him or her, then you’ve got the makings of a great villain.

Personally, my favourite sort of villain is the tricksy kind, the slippery, morally ambiguous character whose motives are completely opaque, and is just as likely to help the protagonist as much as hinder him or her. (David Xanatos from Gargoyles—for whom the Xanatos Gambit from TV Tropes is named, Ben Linus from Lost, Melisande Shahrizai from the Kushiel series by Jacqueline Carey, Mrs. Coulter from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.)

When crafting villains, as Stephanie said, I think it’s important that the villain and protagonist should have some sort of relationship. Too often we think of villains as providing useful plot obstacles, but it’s one thing to set back a character on a quest; it’s another thing to have that setback mean something emotionally. Villains are always more interesting when things are personal between them and the protagonist.

Stacey Lee

Stacey Lee In creating villains, examine their black souls and find the colors inside. A multi-dimensional villain can break your heart, too.

Biljana Likic

biljana new pic I agree totally with Stephanie on relationships between the villain and other characters. I also think it’s important to somehow make the villain relatable; give them common human traits or trivial weaknesses so that even if people can’t relate to the murderer, they can relate to them disliking the cold not because the cold is their nemesis, but because the cold sucks.

In terms of how I write my own, I wrote a post here a while back that covers that 🙂

Hannah Fergesen

Hannah I love JJ’s mention of the slippery, morally ambiguous villain. Those are definitely some of my favorites as well – I find myself hating them and rooting for them all at once, which can be deliciously frustrating. And villains whose motives make complete sense to me as a reader are even better. We’ve all heard the phrase “a villain is the hero of his own story”. But I think it’s important to remember that this means our hero is his/her villain. And how does this play out if the hero and the villain have a personal relationship already? What does this mean for the reader, who is now being given another layer to the conflict? There are so many ways to create depth in villains, but I think at the very start of the list, a villain must have more than “rule the world at any cost” on their to-do list.

Julie Eshbaugh

Julie Eshbaugh SquareI agree with so much that’s already been said here! If I could add anything, it would be that it helps me to remember that most people believe they are acting morally, so in the villain’s (however twisted) understanding, his actions are morally justified. I also enjoy a story that has so much moral ambiguity–depending on whose POV you consider–that it can be unclear who the villain actually is.

Annd, that’s our round-up! What are you guys’ thoughts on villains? 🙂

If you have a question you want us to consider for a future QOTM, feel free to post it in the comments or tweet it at us! Even if we don’t choose it for our next QOTM, we might pick it for a future one after that 🙂


7 Responses to QOTM: All about Villains!

  1. Marc Vun Kannon Aug 21 2015 at 6:49 am #

    I’m not really that interested in villains who have a plan and are carrying it out. Too linear, is boring.
    While my books have villains, the real source of conflict is something larger, and the villains are simply people reacting to it badly. How badly they react is up to their own darker natures, and no one has a plan so much as opportunities that they seize. The real goal for my heroes is beat the bad guys, sure, but also to end the thing they’re all reacting to, which they don’t even know they’re doing, usually. Such a plot may be linear, but I would call it ‘fuzzy linear’, with multiple heroes against multiple villains, each with their own plots, and an endgame that no one really knows about until after it’s achieved.

  2. Lori T Aug 21 2015 at 9:26 am #

    Thank you!!! A post about villains!!! Wonderfully engaging topic that I enjoyed very much! I’m not sure what this says about me, but I love reading villains, and writing them as well. Often times, I think they’re the most interesting part of a book. And when creating my own, I love the idea of a villain the reader is completely engaged in. But this seems to have cost me in terms of possibly getting an agent while querying. I’ve received the “couldn’t connect with the MC” many times, but I think it’s because I like a gray MC: one who isn’t always good, but not completely bad. Is this a bad thing for a new, unpublished writer? You guys mentioned some great villains (like Erin using Voldemort as a wonderful example), and, for instance, Thomas Harris’ HANNIBAL books are, lets face it, mostly interesting because of uber-villain Hannibal Lecter. So, I guess what I’m wondering is: is it OK to write a book where the villain/antagonist is actually more fascinating to the reader than the protagonist? Thanks!! 🙂

    • JJ Aug 21 2015 at 10:12 am #

      If you’re coming across the problem of the villain/antagonist being more compelling than your MC, how about flipping the book and conceiving of the villain/antagonist as your hero? There are plenty of novels where the protagonist is an anti-hero, and our alumna Marie Lu‘s The Young Elites is DEFINITELY about a villain-protagonist!

      • Hannah Aug 21 2015 at 10:40 am #

        JJ makes a great point – the villain as protagonist can be incredibly compelling. I’m reading VICIOUS by V.E. (Victoria) Schwab right now, and though it’s not technically young adult, it fills a space between YA and adult. It’s about some people we would traditionally view as villainous, people who might be unlikable, but who you as the reader definitely root for. So there are definitely examples of this form used well.

        • Marc Vun Kannon Aug 21 2015 at 10:50 am #

          Try a novel called Sidekicks, which is about a superhero sidekick and his search for his own, stronger identity. The question of who is the villain is quite appropriate.
          Also try Catherine Jinks’ Evil Genius series.

        • Lori T Aug 21 2015 at 12:16 pm #

          I’ve heard a lot of good things about VICIOUS, so I’ll have to give it a shot, Hannah. And yeah, I really love the characters you shouldn’t root for, but totally do. (Do you watch THE BLACKLIST? The best thing about the show? James Spader as one of the coolest villains ever. Root for him every time!)

          Thanks for the rec., Marc. I’ll have to look that series up.

      • Lori T Aug 21 2015 at 12:14 pm #

        I love this idea, JJ! Thanks for the advice. I’ve been wanting to read Marie’s THE YOUNG ELITES, it’s just always checked out at the library where I work. I’ll have to download it on my Kindle ASAP! 🙂

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