I haven’t written a post on characterization in a while so I thought I’d write one on creating villains.
Villains can be hard characters to make believable for two reasons:
They are all-bad, unbelievably bad. Note: Your villain does not think of himself (or herself or itself) as a villain. The villain is, in fact, the hero of his own story. He just happens to be the characters whose goals put him in conflict with your main character. The stakes could be huge — who will inherit the kingdom? Or they could be highly personal — who will win the boy? But something has put these two characters against each other. They cannot both win.
You see, your villain is quite often just a regular person. Even if he is truly bad or evil, he must have some redeeming qualities. Otherwise, no one will put up with him long enough to read your book. In Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Black’s villain is the head vampire. He’s an astonishingly handsome reality TV star bent on remaking the world. His positive qualities? His alarming good looks, he loves pretty things, the fact that he can make you a star (unless you become dinner), and his sense of humor (which is admittedly more than a little wharped).
But these balance out the negatives of Black’s main character, a girl named Tana, quite nicely. She is attractive, also likes attractive things (especially male things), doesn’t follow the herd (doesn’t care about stardom), and has a sense of humor although she tends toward snark.
Read Black’s books for well-balanced characters. You might not like them but they are both good and bad although her bad guys are definitely more bad.
Last but not least, problem #2, your villain’s motivations, if they exist at all, are unbelievable.
Your villain has to have a reason for what he does. This means that he can’t be a mustache twirling, silent film bad guy. Give him a reason and make it good.
The bad guy who wants the kingdom could feel that he was cheated out of it in the first place. The bad guy who wants the love interest might believe he is experiencing true love.
In Black’s book, the bad guy does what he does to make over the world. The old time vampires look down on him and he’s had it. He wants a change of power. He wants to be at the top.
Put as much thought into your evil-doers as you put into your heroes. The bigger your story, the bigger the stakes, the bigger your hero and your villain.