Writing Advice: Villains #01

Villains are some of the most memorable of characters – a good villain is a treasure trove of potential for storytelling. Writing villains, however, can be somewhat tricky—which is why I have resigned myself to writing about some of the pitfalls your primary antagonist shouldn’t fall in.

A villain is someone who can best exploit your protagonist; the good villain will make life a hell of a lot more difficult for anyone who’s actively trying to go against them. Writing someone who can’t stand his own against your hero doesn’t just make for an easy challenge – it makes for an unmemorable villain.

Brandon Sanderson has a knack for writing villains; two excellent examples are the Lord-Ruler and Steelheart. Both are extremely powerful figures, memorable for their menacing presence, as well as the constant threat they exude for our heroes’ very existences.

If your villain is powerful, don‘t just talk about it, either. Illustrate his potency; show Dark Lord Jim crushing his enemies one by one, as the depths of his efficiency slowly sink into the minds of your readers! Inaction is a villain’s worst nightmare – that is, unless you’re going exactly for an inactive villain, ruled by paranoia, like the Black Company series’ Longshadow. In cases like his, inaction works; but not in many others.

Make the threat from your villain feel very tangible. There’s a lack of balance between his power, and your protagonists’ and that’s how it should be for the threat to feel impactful. Going back to the Lord Ruler, there’s a villain who wields power far beyond that of Kelsier and Vin; the two Mistborn Allomancers could never face him in a one-on-one battle and survive.

A good way to go about indirectly showing a villain’s power and influence in your world is via other characters’ reactions when the villain’s name comes up. Are they mildly worried, or downright terrified?

When Darth Vader walks on deck irritated, every Imperial officer falls silent, and the air is thick with dread. The Emperor’s chamber on the second Death Star stinks of despair. Even with Vader absent, Imperials are fearful and speak in hushed whispers whenever the Sith Lord is spoken about; the same goes for Sidious, as well as for the villains I mentioned earlier – and many more, besides!

This is where today’s installment of Writing Advice wraps up! It’s by far and away not the last time I’ll speak about writing villains – there’s so much to say! In fact, think of this as merely an appetizer. Until next time!

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