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4 Steps to Creating a Sinister Villain (Guest Post by Karli Roth)

Hey everyone! I come to you today with a very special guest post written by my writer friend, Karli Roth!

Karli has some amazing tips to share with you all today about creating a sinister villain. In my opinion, villains are some of the most important and exciting characters to write about. But they can be really tricky (in more than one way 😉). So Karli has some advice to share that will help you write a truly sinister and believable villain.

Well, let’s get started!

4 Steps to Creating a Sinister Villain

Have you ever read a story that made you cringe because its villain was weak? Maybe the main character constantly deceived the villain in the same way. Perhaps the villain was a flat, undeveloped character. Or the villain’s intentions might have been innocent, when they needed to be sinister for the story.

I know I’ve read plenty of these sorts of stories. Warning: They aren’t the best.

As writers, we want to make sure we don’t fall into the pit of having weak villains. 

However, if you’re writing a story with a sinister villain, you might be overwhelmed. After all, villains are difficult to write. They befuddle writers, they often fall flat on the page, and badly written bad guys even make our main characters look weak.

Antagonists are crucial characters, and a compelling villain will add so much to your story. But how do you create a sinister bad guy? In this article, I’ll share my tips for writing an antagonist that will make your story shine.

1. Remember that Your Villain is a Real Person

Okay, your villain might be an alien if you write sci-fi. But my point remains: your villain should be a realistic character. Your antagonist should have a personality, a life story, thoughts, and feelings. Don’t let your villain become flat, with no individuality or goals. Your antagonist should feel real – as real as your main character. Create a dynamic villain who seems to jump off the page because he is so lifelike.

How do you do this? Develop your villain! Give your antagonist strengths and weaknesses, and figure out what his desires and pet peeves are. Try to understand how your villain thinks. If you like to take personality tests for your characters, don’t skip your villain! Here are some questions to ask yourself about your villain:

  • How does he approach change or failure? 
  • Who or what are the biggest influences in his life? 
  • What does your villain love about his life? What does he hate?
  • What angers and/or hurts him? 
  • What are his opinions and quirks?

A realistic villain also needs a backstory. You can’t expect your readers to believe that your antagonist randomly woke up one morning with an unexplainable desire to conquer the world and destroy everyone in it. That sounds a bit unrealistic, doesn’t it?

Adding a backstory to your antagonist gives a reason for why he is evil. Has your villain been misused or treated badly in the past? Does he feel like he has to prove himself? Why would he decide to do what he’s doing? Step into your villain’s shoes as you discover his backstory. If you were your antagonist, what would make you turn evil?

2. Let Your Readers Sympathize with Your Villain

It sounds weird. Why would you want your readers to sympathize with your villain? He’s the bad guy after all. These were my thoughts when I first learned about sympathetic villains.

However, as I soon realized by studying some of my favorite stories, a sympathetic villain can be very powerful. In The Lord of The Rings, Gollum is a sympathetic villain, and so is Darth Vadar in Star Wars. If you’re like me, these villains captured your attention like few others can. Why? Because they’re sympathetic.

Sympathetic villains intrigue readers because they are understandable and relatable. Sympathetic villains are also terrifying. If there is something creepier than reading about an antagonist doing sinister things, it’s realizing you completely understand why he is doing them.

How do you make your villain sympathetic? You can give him relatable faults or fears. You can show how he’s gone through terrible struggles. You can make your readers almost pity him. If fitting, you can even let your villain be insecure or self-conscious.

Now, even though you can strengthen many villains by making them sympathetic, there are also antagonists who can pull off being purely evil. They have come to where they are because of their own faults, and readers certainly don’t feel sorry for them! Done well, unsympathetic villains can create fierce, dramatic conflict between good and evil.

When deciding what type of villain you want to create, ask yourself which one would add the most to your story. Do you need a solid, evil antagonist to fight against? Or do you want to make your readers think more deeply and feel connected to your villain? If you’re still stuck, ask some friends which version of your villain they find more compelling. Also, keep in mind that many stories have both types of villains in them. Remember though, even if your villain is unsympathetic, he needs to have solid motivations!

To me, some of the creepiest antagonists are those that I can sympathize with. The best sympathetic villains make me sure that I could turn into a monster if I went through what they have… a chilling thought!

3. Your Villain Should be Intimately Connected with Your Story

A bit of advice: Don’t create a random villain for your story. Readers might be confused if they find a dishonorable, rich guy from a Regency era romance in a sci-fi novel. Your villain should make sense in your story and be closely connected with your plot and theme. 

Your villain’s goals should drive the plot almost as much as your main character’s. Certainly keep your main character active, but don’t let him call all the shots. Your antagonist also needs to be shaping the direction of the story by pushing the main character to do difficult things and make hard decisions. 

Keep your villain involved in your theme, too. Letting your villain be a bad example of how to work through a problem can add a great deal to your message. Your villain can show us who your main character will become if he doesn’t overcome his flaw. On the other hand, your villain could tempt your main character to give into his weakness. 

Your villain should be closely connected to your story in plot and theme. Focus on creating the perfect villain for your story – a villain who fits so well that he couldn’t be replaced by any other generic bad guy.

4. Your Villain Should Challenge Your Protagonist

Some of the best villains are smart, creative, intelligent people who solve problems easily. Your villain should not be less powerful than your main character. Your villain should be a match, or ideally more than a match, for your protagonist.

If you create a capable antagonist, your readers will be sitting on the edges of their seats. Prove to your main characters and readers that your villain is not to be messed with. Like we talked about earlier, your villain should force your main character to do challenging things. 

Have your protagonist struggle to defeat and trick your villain. Don’t let your antagonist be deceived easily. Give your villain weaknesses, but don’t skimp on his strengths. After all, if he is in a position of power, he had to get there somehow. Even if your villain isn’t ruling the world, he still has unique knowledge and scary talents that will add tension to your story. As you craft your villain’s strengths, keep them consistent with his personality and backstory.

Many great villains are ambitious and brilliant. Powerful, challenging villains will make your readers feel like nothing can be safe until they are defeated.

You Can Create the Perfect Villain

A good villain will add life and conflict to your story. By using a few simple tips, you can create a sinister, realistic, and terrifying antagonist. Make a compelling antagonist with a true personality, a sympathetic life, a deep connection to your story, and strengths that will truly challenge your main character. Now go forth and write! I know your villain will be amazing!

About Karli

When she was young, Karli Roth wrote a dramatic medieval story starring a four-year-old heroine. The reason? She was disappointed in the lack of suspenseful novels featuring four-year-olds as the main characters. Today, though her writing skills have grown, she has taken a lesson from her younger self. She cares deeply about writing books that resonate with her readers. When she’s not writing stories, you can find Karli lost in the pages of a novel, turning life into a musical by sporadically bursting into song, or enthusiastically meeting new friends and hanging out with old ones. Karli’s dream is to write stories that glorify God and mobilize light bearers to change the world.

Wow, those were some great tips! I need to work on applying these to some of the new villains I’m creating right now in my stories.

Well, that’s all for today!

Did you enjoy this post? What are your top tips for creating a sinister villain? Who are the villains in your story? Let’s get a conversation started in the comments below!

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6 responses to “4 Steps to Creating a Sinister Villain (Guest Post by Karli Roth)”

  1. Lucy Avatar

    That’s so helpful

    1. Annabelle Avatar

      I’m glad!

  2. Luella Treto Avatar
    Luella Treto

    Wooh Hoo! Just what I need!!!! *mentally notes to check these posts more often*

  3. Emma Avatar

    *suddenly wants to write a Regency sci-fi thriller*

  4. Lillian-Keith Avatar

    Thank you so much for the tips, Karli! Yeah, sympathetic villains are more interesting (and scarier that way too, probably because since we understand where they’re coming from, then it’s possible for pretty much anyone to go down that road.) Thanks again for such a good post, guys! I found it really helpful!

  5. Ava Coulter Avatar

    Fantastic post, Karli!!