Awesome Villains

Awesome Villains

SOME OF OUR FAVORITE CHARACTERS IN LITERATURE MIGHT BE SOME OF THE BADDEST ONES. Be honest -- hasn't there been a character you love to hate in some of your favorite books? There's just something so weirdly compelling about characters gone bad -- and I think that's the distinction most important to notice. We're fascinated by characters who started good and ended up bad, maybe because we could imagine going down that path ourselves. So how can we write the baddest baddies around ourselves? Here's a primer on making a super-villain your readers will shudder to read -- and be delighted as well.

1. Give him/her an origin story

Ever notice how the great villains in comic books, from Green Goblins to Lex Luthors and beyond, all have a story of how they Became Bad? It's an essential element of storytelling, because it humanizes the character. Think about what your character's life was like before everything went wrong. Maybe he was a talented and bright person with a loving family. Maybe she was queen of the school. Whatever it is, allow us to see your character in his or her humanity. This might come as a flashback somewhere deep in the story, so we can start to unravel the mystery.

Then throw in the disaster. Something's got to go wrong, something that will cause this person to transform. It can't just be events hurled at the character; we have to see some kind of choice, some moral transformation. When the pressure was on, this character showed his true colors and went bad.

2. Give him/her a fatal flaw.

This is another element we expect to see in the baddest of the bad: some kind of moral characteristic that leads him down the path of villainy. In Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan is the most beautiful and powerful of all the angels in heaven, loved by all; but he's prideful, and it's that pride that is going to bring him tumbling down. In your story, maybe your character is bright and talented, but also ambitious to the point of stepping on others to get ahead. Maybe she is so fearful of rejection that she'd rather push other people away. Whatever it is, we expect villains to have human failings. A faceless, monolithic evil ends up being boring as all heck.

3. Give him/her a chance for redemption.

Finally, there's nothing more suspenseful than raising the question of whether baddies can ever go back and become good again. Is there a possibility for redemption in your story? Give your villain a final chance -- a moment to help or to at least grant mercy in a moment of punishment. Think about The Fox and the Hound, you guys. Did you not cry like a big baby when the hunting dog had a chance to kill his old friend the fox -- and didn't? When villainy has a light side, or the possibility of a choice exists, it feels complex and endlessly surprising.

So what is your villain's fatal flaw, and what made him or her go so terribly wrong? Sound off in the comments and we'll feature some of the most interesting -- and villainous -- responses!