How Do You Develop a Villain? Developing Your Characters Part 5


The Joker Batman The Dark Knight, played by Heath Ledger

The character we love to hate. I write fantasy and paranormal, so yeah, the villain, is kind of important. I did some fancy footwork to not have a huge villain in the first book in my series. I have a bad guy; he shows up. Henrietta The Dragon Slayer faces him; stuff happens. I don’t want to give it away. You’ll read it, right?!

Here’s the thing… I’ve never sat down and really got into a villain’s head. I mean have you? Okay I did a little bit some years ago, but guys, those notes are old… and I’m afraid to get close to my villain. To really understand how he ticks. (I can hear my excuses…)

I’m having a really hard time getting started. I’m afraid.

Then I realized fear is a great villain, and great villains use fear to motivate to get what they want.

As I dive into drafting my villain, I’m asking myself these questions:

  • Who is he? Where does he come from?
  • What does he want — I mean, really really want?
  • Why does he want that thing?
  • What is his worst fear?
  • And why does he fear that thing? Because we often if even subconsciously fear the thing we most want. Otherwise we’d have it already.
  • And since no one is a villain in their own minds, how does he characterizes himself, and justify or explain his actions and desires?
  • I also will be asking/am asking (and have been asked by my critique partners) about his magical abilities.
    I need to know the rules of his magic:
    — the price of his magic;
    — the difficulty of his magic;
    — the scarcity of magical power in his world. (I already know some of it from the first book, but now I need to dive deeper.)

My first step in drafting characters is Research. Then I move to Brainstorming. During the Brainstorming, in conversation with my husband and other critique partners, and through free writing, I start to make decisions: this not that.

Decisions are based on a criteria: 1) a gut check. Does this feel right? 2) does it make sense to other people? Thanks goodness for my critique partners!

Some tools I’m using for this exploration:

45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt (2001, Writer’s Digest Books)

Schmidt pulls from Greek and Roman gods and goddesses, and also uses lots of examples from film, TV and books, and historical figures. I like that she has a small section for each archetype on the villain side. It was helpful to look at a few options. Is my villain a warlock, the opposite of the Recluse, drawn from Hades? Or is my villain a dictator, the opposite of Zeus? Decisions! Decisions!

Breathing Life into Your Characters: How to Give Your Characters Emotional and Psychological Depth by Rachel Ballon, Ph. D. (2003, Writer’s Digest Books)

Ballon devotes a whole chapter to just villains and how to develop complex, compelling and memorable ones for our stories. She starts off by saying we need to face the dark side in ourselves before we can draw them well on the page. She says,

“As a creator of villains, you want to become a partner with your dark side and learn to create such releases for your dark side and those of your readers. You do this by becoming aware of darker feelings of which you are often ashamed.”

So that’s where I am — a good place to begin… facing the dark side — the dark feelings of which I am ashamed– within myself. Not an easy task for someone who is generally facing forward with life, always creating, constructing or perhaps some tearing down, all in the service of creating something better. But I have something that I know all heroes have — I have courage and persistence as my sword and my staff at my side.

As a writer of fantasy and paranormal and adventure stories, I write to face the darkness through my characters words, actions and feelings. So lots of this exploration will happen as I write, though some will also happen through the brainstorming process.

What I’m trying to say is I need to write the story to see the answers…

How do you develop your villains? What tools have you found useful? I for one am curious! Thanks! I love hearing from you! We love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love and adoration, for the month of September, everyone who leaves a comment to this post and any post on the Writer’s Fun Zone I will enter your name in our giveaway. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you’ll get your name in the giveaway twice.

If you leave a comment and link back to my blog, and mention my books Overcome Writer’s Block: 10 Sparks to Ignite Your Creativity or The Writer’s Adventure Guide: 12 Stages to Writing Your Book in your blog, you get your name entered three times. What do you win? Book mentoring support from the newest member of our team, Book Mentor, Ezra Barany.

We will pick a winner every week for 30-minute complimentary consultation about your novel with Ezra. At the end of September we will pick a winner for the grand prize: A 60-minute complimentary consultation about your novel with Ezra. Good luck!

Note: We’re keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of a complimentary ticket in Ezra’s year-long program Finish Your Page-Turning Novel launching January 2012. ($2,000 value) For now, we will draw weekly for 30-minute consult and monthly for a 60-minute consult.

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In the meantime, we invite you to pick up copies of Beth Barany’s best-selling books Overcome Writer’s Block: 10 Sparks to Ignite Your Creativity or The Writer’s Adventure Guide: 12 Stages to Writing Your Book. Both books are like having a book coach at your side. Experienced and novice writers have said that these books have saved them time and avoided heartache, as well as helped them get their books done. And that what it’s all about!

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  • Beth,

    I loved this post. Especially since my memoir about my marriage to an impostor will soon be on its way to my favorite agent… Villains are awesome, and there really is no dark side.

    Thank you!

  • Beth Barany says:


    Thank you! Whoa, what a story. Good luck with it! I’m still a little scared about writing about villains, but I wrote my confrontation scene and could appreciate my villain’s point of view.


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