Creating Legendary Villains

Since this podcast is focused on the bad guys of the literary world, I thought we’d take a moment to talk about what makes a great villain.  Sure, we’ve looked at making sure your baddies align themselves with some sort of overall scheme, and how forensic psychology can play a role in creating the perfect (or at least realistic) villain, but how do you go about writing one?

Well, I don’t have all the answers.

Writing villains can be very difficult, especially if you’re writing the villain from first person POV, because then we *only* see the villain through the eyes of our hero.  And that’s usually very biased.

To compound the issue, oftentimes we don’t meet the villain, so to speak, until closer to the end of the book.  So how do you make your readers fall in love with one?

The best piece of advice I’ve heard: 

The villain is the hero of his own story. 


Most villains are not evil by nature (setting aside the psychopath for a moment, that is). The best villains on the page, or screen, are those who are flawed, who are real, who have a rich backstory. Because it creates a small sliver of doubt in the reader: Could I possibly be turn out that way?

I recently ran into this problem in my current MS. I had a great story (first person POV) and though we knew the bad guy from early on, we don’t *know* he’s the villain until the end of the story.  Sound familiar? 

My problem was, how did I make the reader like this guy without shoving him down your throat? In fact, he’s not really close to my MC, he’s more on the fringes.  But then it hit me: If I show how much another character – my secondary main character, K – loves him, then I don’t need to worry about his overt interactions with my MC. I can make the readers fall in love with him because K is head over heels in love with him.

By doing this he’s not ‘just the villain’ anymore.  He’s a guy who comes from a home who took in stray kids to have one, big crazy family. He’s had to work hard to get to where he is in life. He fell in love with a great girl. He’s smart, good looking and cares about others. Sure, maybe he’s a little bit nerdy and overprotective, but everyone has a flaw, right? He’s human. He’s relatable. Maybe even lovable. Which makes his betrayal so much worse. 

What are your tips for writing a great villain?  

Some great articles on writing a legendary villain:

6 Ways to Write Better Bad Guys – Writer’s Digest

How to Create Legendary Villains – Kristen Lamb

Three Steps to Creating a Complex Villain

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