On Writing Villains

I remember my first villains. I made them extremely evil. In my stories, written fondly at age eleven, they had fangs and darkness in their eyes. Their souls were full of mud, and they made the Grinch look like a sweetheart.

As I grew older, wrote more stories, I realized that those weren’t the real villains. Not really. Real villains aren’t cardboard cutouts, after all.

Real villains have just as many motivations as the good guys, they’re just in the opposite direction.

And they aren’t all soulless demons. Sometimes, the antagonist isn’t even evil enough to call a super villain. They aren’t giggling with glee over the bodies of the damned. Sometimes, the hero wants to go to prom, and the antagonist does something as simple as taking the car keys. Sometimes, the hero is their own villain. Maybe they got caught doing some illicit activity and can’t attend the prom now because of that.

Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.

Villains have substance. Villains have their own lives too. Villains, if done right, can be just as interesting as the heroes, if not more. For example, is the villain only pictured when they’re making the hero miserable? (Cough cough, Marvel). Why isn’t the villain taking time off to, oh, I don’t know, see their kids? Give them a reason worth making superheroes miserable for. (Spiderman Homecoming, anybody?)

Oh, and a side note. If the villain is a female, she doesn’t ALWAYS have to want to have sexy-time with the hero, okay? Femme fatales don’t always need the “fatale” part, do they?

Also, please be careful when making villains typecast based on race/gender/sexuality in general unless you have greater diversity reflected within your book overall. It’s just not cool.


  1. Lydia on October 22, 2018 at 3:47 pm

    I couldn’t agree with this list more, especially your final point.

    Who are a few examples of villains that you thought were written really well?

    • Sophia Whitte on October 22, 2018 at 5:03 pm

      Hello there. 🙂 Glad you liked the article.

      As for villains, Dorian Gray if you’re going for classic literature. An interesting sort of protagonist/antagonist mashup to follow, and a really intriguing display of how questioning one’s morality can lead to one’s own damnation.

      You also have your foil characters, so like Dr. Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes series. Always cool to see what your main character could become if they just took a different path in life.

      In pop culture, one has to adore Erik Killmonger. Not only is he motivated be a quest of vengeance for his father’s overthrow, he also wants to solve a lot of social issues against injustice, poverty, and violence in his community. He just wants to do so in a way that morally/ethically combats against the main superhero’s own moral viewpoint.

      Let’s not forget the female villains, however. Cersei! (I’m on a Game of Thrones kick). Though her character does absolutely HORRIBLE things, you can’t help but feel bad for her at certain points. She loves her children to death (to the point she’d vouch for them if they murdered someone else without blinking). She’s also power-hungry, but she isn’t driven solely by her sexuality. She’s really made more interesting by having maternal instincts (a positive) that are actually driven into overdrive (a lethal negative). She wants power, and she sees a flawed society where, after being trapped in an abusive relationship, women cannot directly wield that power (at least, in her experience). So, she tries to get that power by her children, but when her children turn their backs on her, she’s left floundering for alternative avenues.

      And Devil Wears Prada. Miranda Priestly. She has tons of positive characteristics. Hardworking. Ambitious. Literally a fashion icon. But those all turn into negatives since she expects other characters to sacrifice their personal lives for work, just like she does. But that’s a completely valid motivation for her because she sees it as a path toward success, even when others see it as soul-killing work.

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