Creating And Writing Believable Villains

Villains. They’re the bad guys of our stories who are devoted to wickedness. They have specific goals and will stop at nothing to reach them. Are you as driven to write them as compelling characters?

The hero of the story is a stumbling block for the villain. He’s in the way, therefore the villain must do all he can to eliminate the him.

An antagonist (someone who merely opposes the hero) simply makes waves for the hero.

Villains are used to create tension in a story. They also provide much-needed hurdles for the hero to overcome during his journey.

Unlike antagonists, villains are sociopathic, narcissistic, and can be quite unpredictable. And they often use fear to get their way.

And they absolutely must have a reason to do what they do.

Think of real-life villains… What makes them so creepy, and scary? Yep…they’re real.

Readers must be able to identify with the villain. Perhaps he has an interest in animals, or children. Maybe he’s a devoted church member or the hero’s letter carrier. Maybe the villain is the babysitter for the hero’s children.

– Villains are extremely motivated to do what they do.

– Over the top villains are unbelievable.

Believable make-believe should be your goal.

When should you first bring your villain to the page?


Those were just a few basic guidelines for creating a compelling villain. If all else fails you could follow a simple recipe I concocted. It goes something like this (Of course, like all good cooks I’ve kept a few secret ingredients to myself).

*This post is part of a Powerpoint presentation I use at conferences. Please do not copy without permission.

5 thoughts on “Creating And Writing Believable Villains

  • Terry Shames

    Interesting post. I’ve been thinking about motivation a lot and I think motivation is usually about saving face. People kill out of jealousy, greed, fear, etc–but it often boils down to saving face (killing the lover because the killer has been cheated on; needing money so the spouse doesn’t know you’ve been an idiot; etc). But some of the villains you describe don’t care about saving face. The sociopath doesn’t care what others think of him/her so saving face isn’t an issue.

  • Nike Chillemi

    That’s pride…blown out of proportion pride.

  • Terry Odell

    Great presentation. One of the best pieces of advice I heard about villains was that they have to believe they’re the hero of their own story.

    Terry’s Place

  • Susan Oleksiw

    That’s a very fun presentation and I’m guessing that it works well at a conference. You give the audience lots to think about and make it seem easy.

  • Lynda

    Great presentation. I’ve taught a lot of classes on characters and motivation, but I’ve never focused on the villian. Well done! (as usual)

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