A strong villain creates a wake of tension and conflict for the hero. They lie, steal, cheat, kidnap, backstab, hijack, blow up things…the list is endless. So, what makes a memorable villain?
Here’s a quick test.
1). Does the villain have a believable, clear goal?
In the movie Unbreakable –love Bruce Willis & Samuel L. Jackson– the villain wants to find his exact opposite. The villain gives what he thinks is a reasonable explanation to justify the extreme measures he employs to find the hero. The goal is lofty and difficult to achieve. Marked, by P.C. Cast + Kristin Cast has a villan with a lofty goal, as well. Even though the reader doesn’t know who the villain is right away, the antagonist’s goal is revealed in a way that sounds reachable and difficult to prevent.
2.) Does the villain’s goal stand in direct contrast with hero’s goal?
Tension stems from the interaction between the hero and villain. If they stand on opposite sides, it heightens conflict. Maria V. Snyder’s Inside Out has powerful villain who is determined to accomplish a goal and makes it extremely difficult for the hero to reach hers. The goal of the villain(s) in the movie AVP is clear: feed on hero. The goal of the hero: survive.
3.) Does the villain have redeeming quality?
No one is perfect. The same thing applies to villains whose role is to antagonize the hero. By definition villains are evil, but they shouldn’t be perfectly evil. Think of Dr. Evil from the movie Austin Powers who has a soft spot for Mini Me, Mr. Bigglesworth and sometimes Scott. It’s important to have a dynamic villain who serves as a real threat to the hero’s goal, otherwise what’s the point.
4.) Is the villain as powerful or more powerful than hero?
In L.A. Bank’s Minion, the villain is by far more powerful than the heroine, or so it seems. The heroine is young and struggles against an older, more experienced adversary. At times, it feels like there is no way she can win. I loved it, couldn’t put the book down. A powerful villain has that effect. They keep readers engaged.
If you answered “yes” to all of the questions, congratulations! Sounds like you have a solid foundation for your villain. If you answer “no” to any of them, your villan may need more work. Are there any other qualities you consider when crafting a villain? Any books or movies you think demonstrate certain aspects of a villain well?
Does your villain pass the test?