The Nature of Villains
First off, when creating a villain, there are a few things I consider. The first decision I make is- is this villain someone who is just straight up evil because they are just a selfish and greedy person, are they evil because of some sort of trauma or suffering they went through, or are they evil because they have some sort of good goal which requires them to do something evil?
These really represent the 3 types of villains that I at least have used and seen. Now, I'd like to say first and foremost that while the first type seems superficial and doesn't appear to have depth, I would argue that this isn't the case.
To put it simply, lots of selfish, spoiled, and greedy people exist in the real world. This is a fact. Not every villain has to have some big motive for being evil, and it's not unrealistic for someone to just be a bad person because it benefits them to do so. At the end of the day, people are self interested- especially so in real life. If helping others takes time or effort or money, most people won't do it. This is a conclusion I've come to from my personal experiences, and I am sure everyone reading this can relate in some way.
That being said, not every villain should be as shallow as just 'they are self interested, therefore they do evil things for personal gain.'
I really like writing villains who went through a whole lot of torment and suffering to become what they were, to the point where people actually understand where they are coming from, and almost side with them. These villains make the fight a lot more grey and less one sided morally, and they also allow for the potential to reform the person, though I typically don't like this. I feel that someone who has become evil for this manner won't so easily change themselves and will still want to see people suffer, but little by little they might be able to at least accept that the good people don't need to suffer, or something along those lines.
Then we have villains who have an overarching good goal.
I really find these villains to be interesting. People who do horribly evil things, but with some sort of righteous goal in mind. Thanos is the one who would come to mind, but there are many other villains like this. These villains are typically overpowered and do something like destroying the world, or certain groups of people in order to better life for everyone else.
In my own series, my main characters are this type of villain.... to an extent. They have a grand goal of ridding the world of scum, and they don't mind ridding the world of heroes who think they're all that while they're at it. They will destroy anyone who disrespects them, and not give their horrible actions a second thought, but they will also protect those who they have accepted and in the end are really just trying to make the world a better place, even if they have to become monsters to do so. They've also gone through a mediocre amount of suffering to become as demented as they are, so the 2nd category applies here as well.
Point being, I love making villains. It's so fun to see what type of villain you can make. What are their goals, their quirks, their logic, their backstories, their mindsets?
What characteristics do you all think makes a good villain?
Like somebody who has his own goals, whether they be good, simply self-preservation or downright evil...as long as he/she is against the protagonist, that person is a villain.
The readers might see his personality as whatever the author wishes it to be...based on the three reasons mentioned above but in the end, if that person will go to any extent to oppose the protagonist, he is evil.
In a battle between a protagonist king and an antagonist king, we have another third king who is supporting the antagonist...maybe it's because his kingdom is dependent on the antagonist (a good intention) or because he is has a familial duty to that king (another good intention) or maybe is just a bad guy who hates the protagonist for some reason (a bad intention)...whatever the reason, he is blocking the protagonist from destroying the bad guy...
To the protagonist, he is an opponent at that point...
At first, if he has a good intention for going against the protagonist, he is not a villain but an obstacle but if the person does increasingly heinous things like killing off the protagonist's friends, agrees with the antagonist king's plans that hurt civilians etc. At that point, he becomes a villain.
Simply, doing things which are evil or standing by passively when evil things are being done whatever your reasons make the character a villain.
The best villains, in my opinion, are the ones who you can understand and to some extent sympathize with, but who are still reprehensible. One of my absolute favorites for this reason is Amon from the first season of Legend of Korra, because he's fighting for something that most people would support as laudable, but is still creepy as heck and his methods are super sketchy.
I think the best way to create a great villain is to treat them to the same treatment that your other characters get. What's their backstory? What's their motivation? Where do they draw the line (do they draw the line)? Just like any character, they're so much more interesting when they're acting for understandable reasons like the rest of the cast instead of trying to check off plot points.
Ironically, while I love villains neither of my stories has an actual villain (although arguably I as the writer am the villain for Not A Manga...). I need to fix that for whatever I write once Mr. Familiar is complete.
Additionally, while villains can be listed as antagonists, most villains are more usually defined by their cruel actions - whether you sympathize with the villain character and their motivations or not. Yes, this person gets in the MC's way, but that other jerk killed his best friend and stole the holy weapon!
Also while I'm a deep believer of showing hints of why a villain does what they do, sometimes evil doesn't have to be explained and some go better without it. Maybe there is a serious reason why in the planning phase and maybe there can be vague hints around the story to show if they may lean to simply antagonist later on - on occasion evil can just be evil and their actions are loud enough on their own.
The reason for this?
The virtues are considered virtues for a reason. Try getting through life without displaying any of them. I promise, you won't get very far. And by the same token, there is no believable way for a villain to be considered any sort of believable threat without some moral virtue.
He won't work hard because he's lazy.
He won't abstain from immediate pleasures for the grand goal because he doesn't know what patience is.
He'll fall for any dupe from the opposite sex because he's too lusftul to think rationally.
He'll be too busy eating to get any exercise.
He won't display prudence, so that means he'll act in fits of passion with no plan or forethought.
He won't display the courage necessary to face the hero
He won't be able to keep minions because he won't treat them with any sort of respect or kindness.
And even if that weren't a deal breaker he won't reward them for doing well because he's greedy.
Without at least some moral virtue, the villain is not a villain, he's just a loser.
JadedStrayHyena Wrote: Also while I'm a deep believer of showing hints of why a villain does what they do, sometimes evil doesn't have to be explained and some go better without it. Maybe there is a serious reason why in the planning phase and maybe there can be vague hints around the story to show if they may lean to simply antagonist later on - on occasion evil can just be evil and their actions are loud enough on their own.
I do agree that it isn't necessary to go out of your way to explain a villain's backstory and actions to the reader, but I also think it's important to think about them as an author because otherwise you end up with people doing nasty stuff just because it furthers the plot, and that's supremely boring. If a villain is sadistic, figure out what triggers their sadism (and what exceptions there are to their behavior). If they're literally insane, what is driving their actions (could be all stuff in their head, but then what is that stuff)? I think giving even cursory thought to that leads to much richer and more interesting villains, even if there's no way for the readers to directly access the information.
“There are no self-proclaimed villains, only regiments of self-proclaimed saints. Victorious historians rule where good or evil lies.”
“More evil gets done in the name of righteousness than any other way.”
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
“I believe in our side and theirs, with the good and evil decided after the fact, by those who survive. Among men you seldom find the good with one standard and the shadow with another.”
A proper villain, I think, isn't someone twirling a moustache and petting a white cat. He's you. He's me. His motivations are the same as yours: to get through the day, maybe a little better off than the previous day.
A proper villain is simply someone with motives that conflict with yours, not some dastardly Snidely Whiplash tying women to train tracks.