Do you want to know the secrets to writing a scary villain? A scary villain is one that you can feel their desires as intensely as the protagonists. Although you don’t want them to succeed, you can feel their struggle as deeply as yours. They started human, and that’s where we have to meet them at the beginning.
You have to know what went wrong that this person who started well is now the villain because the villain doesn’t think he’s the villain. Also, the scary villain thinks he’s the hero of his own story. He has a mission and will do whatever it takes to turn his desires into reality because he doesn’t see that what he’s doing is wrong.
How to write a scary villain?
Writing regular villains can be a difficult process. Writing a horrifying villain can be even more difficult. I want to talk about creating terrifying villains and your mangas comics and novels.
Make them characters that scare the characters in your story and scare your audience through the page. So I am breaking down the 15 best tips for writing your scary villains. Let’s go!
1. Give your villain a tragic backstory
It is the most common advice I see floating around above villains. So many people believe that evil needs to come from somewhere, typically a tragic experience. That isn’t how this works. Can someone become evil due to hardship? It’s possible but psychologically speaking, the odds are higher that hardship breeds empathy in a human being.
- It’s more realistic for your hero to have a tragic backstory than your villain.
- Research also suggests that a lack of hardship can create colder, unfulfilled human beings.
It’s the whole spoiled brat ideology. You’ve never had to work for anything, so nothing holds value. That’s not to say that none of your villains should have tragic backstories. To claim that villains need to have a traumatic past to justify their evil is both negligent and ignorant.
2. Don’t force your villain to become mentally ill
People villainize mental illness all the time. A vast bulk of antagonists in fiction are crazy because of their tragic back story. But statistically speaking, mentally ill people are far more likely to be victims of a crime. Mental illness isn’t a strength or a superpower. It leaves people vulnerable.
You can write a mentally ill villain if you want. As you also have a bunch of mentally ill heroes, mix it up and, at the very least, do your research. Sensationalizing PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and anxiety are trite, tired, and harmful.
3. Be a neutral writer
All villains think they’re the good guy. There’s a common saying that every villain is the hero of their own story. If you say that some villains are the hero of their own story, you can write about a villain who believes that they are good. That sounds compelling, but claiming not all villains believe themselves to be good is factually incorrect.
- Plenty of people are willing to do terrible things for their benefit, and the villains also do.
Their advancement and comfort matter much more to them than whatever collateral damage happens. Narcissism, greed, and ambition are perfectly logical motivators that have nothing to do with goodness.
4. Give the villain their point of view
Many writers want to devote entire chapters to their villain’s point of view for an obvious reason. That doesn’t mean their point of view adds any benefit to your novel. I’ve read many books in my lifetime, and I can only think of two novels were reading the villain’s point of view added any depth or benefit to the overall story.
- Quite often, the villain’s point of view reads as self-indulgent.
It’s an opportunity for the writer to show how bad the villain is or see the tragic backstory we didn’t need. But readers need to know the villain’s motivation more often than not. That should be clear who the characters, actions, and characterization.
Motivation doesn’t have to be written out in neon lights. If the character behaves selfishly, then the readers know they’re selfish. If they have a glorious, arrogant personality, they can be narcissistic. It’s not your job to treat the reader as foolish.
5. Give priority
Your villain is as important as your main character and should be crafted with equal attention and care. But when you treat your villain as more important than the main character, you create a compelling, engaging villain and then a lifeless emcee. That’s a problem.
- The main character is usually the point of view of the novel.
The reader follows them throughout the entire story. You want them to hook the reader.
- If you’re having trouble entertaining the main character, it’s time to put the villain down for a second and flesh that hero out.
Create the main character the readers can behind. That way, they don’t reach the end of the story, wishing that the hero died and the villain succeeded.
6. Add unique suspense or action
Killing the wife is so prevalent and awful. Foraging a woman is when a female character, usually a romantic partner, is killed off to motivate and thus advance a male character’s plot. It is commonly used about heroes. However, if you look at many villains throughout fictional media, many of them become evil. Because of what a dead wife? That’s not unique!
Internalized sexism trope is overdone and boring. You’re better than that, and you can think of something else. So add something new while adding suspense or action. Readers want a unique story, so keep it in your mind.
7. Take a female villain as a male villain
A vast bulk of male villains are motivated by the death of a wife and are equally large. Also, the group of female villains is motivated by beauty and youth. They are resorting to evil tactics for the sole purpose of staying young and pretty forever. Many people period care about the aesthetic appearance. But the reason this is on the list is that the whole beauty and youth thing have become the go-to motivator for female villains.
People can’t think of anything else. Women have the same motivations as men: greed, power, ego, making their idealized version of a better place. The beauty cliche has been done to death. Leave it behind in fairy tales. You are creative enough to dig deeper.
8. Diversify your villain
Biases can leak into our writing, even ones we didn’t realize we had. It is never more apparent than when writing villains. A lot of writers will say, Don’t read into it. These are the characters that popped into my mind. But if all of your heroes are caucasian coded, then all of your villains have a darker complexion. Readers will notice if all of your heroes are straight or queer coded readers are also going to notice.
Does that mean all of your villains have to be straight, white-bodied people? Of course not. It means your entire cast should be realistically diverse. A queer villain is fine if you’ve got queer heroes and queer supporting cast as well. As a writer, you don’t get to hover over every reader’s shoulder and tell them not to read it.
9. Establish the conflict
If your protagonist and antagonist are sworn enemies, you have to establish the reason behind the hate. Why does your villain hate your hero? A very simple question that, surprisingly, many writers don’t ask themselves what happened in the past between these two characters? What was the spark that lit the fuse that’s still burning today? If your villain doesn’t have a back story with the hero, then what is their motive to destroy the hero?
- Try to connect the questions to the inner conflict of the villain.
So it’s not only that the hero is standing in the way of something external that the villain wants. The hero stands for something that the villain wants dead where we wait. The scary villain has internal conflict, too. Your villain arguably has to have stronger inner conflict than the hero because we can all understand the motivation to do something good, but the motivation to do something wrong. That’s an interesting subject to get into.
10. Never glorify your villain
The biggest problem I have with writers who focus on the villain is that they sometimes confuse the antagonist with the protagonist. There’s no question about it. Your villain might have started good, and he might even still have a flicker of good in him, but that does not make him a good person. Please remember that as a storyteller, your job is essential.
Every story you tell is going to carry a message. Even if you don’t think it does, it does. It carries the message through the characters and how they’re portrayed. Also, it is not to say that your villain can’t redeem himself. Of course, he/she can.
But his/her evil ways cannot be justified, not even by a tragic back story. They can be explained, but they cannot be justified. So with that out of the way, let’s move on to creating an unforgettable villain and damaging them beyond repair. It’s more fun than it sounds.
11. Focus on the fear
Figure out what the character thinks will make them happy and how their fear has stopped them from going after it, and dig into the character’s backstory to see where that fear came from. So it works awesomely for developing any character in your story. But does it work for developing a villain? Yes, it does. The fear and the goal create the motive, and the goal and the plan create the villain’s plot. So here are the questions:
- What is your villain’s greatest fear, and what happened in their past to create that fear?
- What does your villain believe will bring him true happiness or contentment?
- What definitive steps will your villain take to turn their desire into reality while steering clear of what they’re afraid of?
A scary villain’s fear is simple: loneliness, failure, or powerless. So put these elements and make your villain scarier.
12. Make your villain redeemable
Due to the redemption arc trend, it’s also become popular to tell all writers that they must make all of their villains redeemable. They can be redeemable if you want. But sometimes, a villain needs to commit genocide, and there’s no coming back from that. The problem with many tips on this list is that they are absolute. The villain must be redeemable.
You must have an editor, and your story must have structure. But this isn’t one of those situations. If you plan on exploring the redemption path, make sure your villain does bad that can be redeemed.
13. Emulate your favorites
We’re often told to look to our favorites to inspire creativity as writers. While this can be helpful, it can also be dangerous for many emulations to imitate and then regurgitate. That leads to watered-down one-dimensional versions of characters we already love. The issue with emulating your favorites is that many of our favorite villains come from sources of media that do not translate well into novels.
Many people love anime and model their fictional villains after anime, but many anime have a very over-the-top, grandiose vibe. That would be considered stale or trite if written into a novel.
- Instead of emulating your favorite villains, I would encourage you to research some of the biggest villains throughout history, real-life baddies.
It will give you a better idea of crafting a layered and believable antagonist.
14. Give them a lack of empathy
When you look at any terrifying villain in literature, you will notice that a common trait of these terrifying villains is that they don’t empathize with the other characters. Empathy is the way we care about other people. It’s how we feel and recognize their feelings and support them. We’re regular villains in a story who might have some degree of empathy.
A lack of empathy is terrifying because once you give your villain character a lack of that, they will not care about what happens to them.
15. Make the villain the hero of their own story
When creating a scary villain, you must understand that the villain will see themselves as the story’s hero. Whatever your villain character does in your story, no matter how bad it is, they still need to believe that they are the good guy and that what they’re doing is right.
- Making them the hero of their story provides this terrifying aspect to their character.
For example, if your character was a very bad serial killer, they might feel like they have a good reason for doing what they do. To turn a villain into a furious character, you need to make them do something morally bad but believe something good.
10 villain tropes you should know
Before writing your villain character, you must know about some popular tropes. Also, you have to understand the trope and combination with plot and world-building. You can not add any trope to any story because all these tropes have individual identities. Here are 10 tropes for villain characters.
Privileged villains are the best villains because they’re realistic. Take a look back at history. Statistical evidence and psychological studies state that experiencing hardship is a proven way to develop compassion and empathy. The scenario is much easier to believe, and they’re easy to hate.
Betrayal is one of the all-time best villain tropes because everyone has been betrayed. At some point, it is hurtful and enraging. It stirs up every horrible feeling you don’t want to feel, taking a character your protagonist trusts or depends on somehow. Brute betrayal is an effective plot device because it’s a knife in the heart that both the protagonist and the reader can feel.
There’s a bad guy wreaking all kinds of havoc throughout the novel, and the protagonist, along with the reader, is trying to figure out who it is among a host of characters.
Typically, this trope pops up in mystery novels. However, you can find it in various genres: sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, whatever, so long as it fits the plot and the clues are well hidden. I enjoy this trope because it seems like a puzzle.
This trope is when the villain is someone you rarely see playing. Maybe the villain is a five-year-old boy, a little old lady, or a defenseless kitten.
Take someone who looks completely innocent and turn them into an evil mastermind. Obviously, this can’t work all the time and for every story, but it’s super engaging because it’s shocking. We don’t see a lot of killer grandmas or vampire bunnies, but when we do, we remember them.
The final boss
Few things set off a series better than the hero going head to head with the big baddie, only to find out they’re not the big baddie. The bad guy you’ve been battling this entire time isn’t even a big deal. They’re only the lackey.
Readers love this because it makes for a great plot twist, but it also sets up the action and story for the sequel perfectly. If you thought the villain was a piece of work, wait until you meet their boss.
Religious basket cases
This type of villain is so effective because they’re genuinely scary. People do crazy in the name of religion. So as a reader, you don’t know what to expect. Sacrifice a bunch of innocent people. Religious figures and cult leaders also make for great villains because they easily and successfully recruit followers.
Your hero is never safe because anyone could be a daughter of the sky, God or worshiper of Lord Freud, or whoever your villain reveres. It’s even juicier when the villain doesn’t believe in their deity and uses blind worship.
Monsters are one of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of Greek mythology. There are so many cool monsters. Have you seen deep sea fish? I want some evil creatures that will give me nightmares.
Villains you love to hate
They are fantastic characters for one key reason: entertaining. They have no redeeming qualities, but something about them captivates your attention.
The villain’s dialogue is pretty predictable. They say something that makes you go, ooh, I’m not interested. A lot of writers are afraid to take it there. But take it because they’re hit below the belt. Capitalize on insecurities, and the protagonist cries a little bit when the villains get sick.
This is a trope I see so infrequently. I cannot get enough of the hero hating the villain with every fiber. Meanwhile, the villain looks at the hero and thinks, Who are you again? Maybe the villain doesn’t see them as a threat. They see them as beneath them. Whatever it is, they’re not taking them seriously.
What readers love about this is it only fuels hatred for the villain. Few things are more infuriating than wasting all this emotion on someone who barely acknowledges your existence. Plus, it helps to solidify the authority of the villain. As the story progresses and the hero becomes more powerful. So, it makes the hero’s ultimate win even more satisfying.
Tell me in the comments below, what do you think makes a scary villain? Who are some of your favorite villains from fiction or film? Let me know what villain characters you’re creating in your books because I’d love to hear about them.
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