I guarantee not many of you will catch the reference in the title, but it makes me smile, so I’m going to use it. It also fits with what we’re going to talk about today. Did you guess what it is? Yep, that’s right. We’re going to talk about VILLAINS!!! For those extraordinary people who prefer the term “antagonist”, it’s the same thing. The bad guy.
When I say “villain”, I guarantee everyone’s mind goes somewhere different. For some, maybe it’s Moriarty from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. For others, it may be a comic book character. For the majority of the crazy world out there, they probably instantly think “Disney”. Whatever it is that sparked in your head when I said “villain”, hang on to it. That is probably the bad guy (or girl) you love to hate, and we’re going to plunge ahead and talk about creating them.
But first, a random villainous quote from… a movie we should all recognize:
“I’ll get you, my pretty! And your little dog, too!”
Anywho, the first thing I want to say about villains is that — even though they’re usually terribly evil — They tend to be pretty awesome. And, without them, we wouldn’t even have the books and movies we love so much. So, snaps for the villains!
(This is where you snap, it’s like clapping, only quieter)
I think one of the most important things that villains do is TALK! I mean, come on, who hasn’t looked at the page or screen and thrown up their hands and demanded “Quit monologuing, you idiot! This is how they always beat you!”
However, I’m more concerned with opening lines. (The good guy is supposed to beat the villain, so their monologuing doesn’t always concern me, just usually.) Okay, let’s run the reel for opening lines.
Professor James Moriarty (The Final Problem)
“You have less frontal development than I would have expected. It is a dangerous habit to finger loaded firearms in the pocket of one’s dressing-gown.”
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
“How have you been?”
“Miserable, darling, just miserable.”
A villain’s opening words say a lot about what they are or what they are not. Many times, a villain’s opening words are quirky and offbeat, like Moriarty. Other times a villain feigns compassion, but you can always tell.
I put a lot of thought into the first words my villains say, because I want them to be memorable. I also want to immediately show the reader/watcher something about the heart of this character. Whether they’re motivated by selfishness, greed, lost love, or miscommunication, I like to clue the reader/watcher in on this.
Point #2 on villains–
WAIT! Another random villainous quote, from the movie Tangled:
“Mother’s feeling a bit… tired. Would you sing for me?”
That irksome woman.
Okay, Point #2!
Villains are dramatic, it’s in their nature (usually because they’re pretty narcissistic). So, aside from the obvious drama queen situations going on elsewhere, they need a grand entrance. They’re entrance introduces them for you, it shows the reader/watcher that “hey, this is the guy/girl to watch out for”.
My most recent villain entrance was simple, yet fully dramatic. The guy entered via a porch, silhouetted in the doorway. Effective, because then you can reveal him slowly.
My favorite movie villain entrance is probably the guy from the first Sherlock Holmes movie (starring Jude Law and Robert Downey Junior). They waste no time in letting you know that this guy is clinical. Creepy, but awesome.
More great movie villain entrances:
The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe
National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets
There are others, but those are the good ones off the top of my head. Also, pretty much every Marvel movie ever. They’re really good at villain entrances.
Take your time to flesh out your villain. Villains are humans, too (usually). They have weaknesses. They have feelings. They relate to people. Villains aren’t always monsters, sometimes they’re just misunderstood. They can be nice to certain people and evil to others. They can have normal lives outside of their day jobs. (The day job, of course, being villainy).
Random Villainous Quote! From Larryboy: The Good, The Bad, and The Eggly…
“Maybe it’s diamonds, or rubies… or a fondue set! I love fondue.”
Your villain deserves just as much thought as your hero, and giving him feelings an quirks can actually make him likable. Yes, I said it. A likable villain. It sounds like an oxymoron, but really it’s not. If people dislike him too much, they may put down your writing. And no one wants that.
So, whatever direction you decide to take your villain, or whatever direction your villain takes you, remember to think before you publish. How do they walk, talk? What’s their backstory? How did they get to the point where villainy was their only choice? Or do they enjoy it?
Let me know about your most villainous villains in the comments below, or use the Contact page to email me directly!
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