Monday, May 2, 2011

Make Your Bad Guys Better

One common mistake I see when I’m editing fiction is a lack of depth for the characters—particularly the antagonist. The days of the dark villain twirling his mustache are long gone. Readers expect the author to deliver a bad guy who is complex and understandable. We may love to hate the antagonist, but we also want to know why he’s the way he is. Below are some quick tips to help you begin to sculpt such a character.

  • Know your villain’s backstory. Your antagonist may think destroying the world is a credible option and that’s fine—but the reader needs to understand why.
  • Find something good within your antagonist. As I mentioned above, readers demand complex characters, and I character who is all good—or all bad, is a cliché. Give your villain a few good points and you’ll craft a more compelling story.
  • Allow your villain some face time. We've all read novels where the villain is some faceless, evil mastermind. But, especially in first novels, it’s better to let the reader see the villain with some POV (point of view) scenes. You don’t have to reveal all, but don’t neglect him.
  • Give your villain the advantage. Yes, we all want the hero to succeed, but a story where it’s obvious the he can overcome the villain isn't much of a story. It robs the reader of tension and fails to deliver strong conflict.
  • Let your hero find something within the villain to admire. I know it sounds risky, but again, this will add complexity and depth to your novel. It will also give your hero more internal conflict.

 Now it’s your turn. What are some things you love to hate about villains in your favorite stories?


  1. Thanks for the recommendations, Edie! It sparked an idea for my bad guy!

  2. Love this! Thanks for the villain help! :)

  3. I'm glad this helps. For some reason I always neglect my villain - these things help me bring him up to speed!