As a kid, I was inspired by a commentary on the making of Kung Fu Panda, where Ian McShane, the voice of Tai Lung, says something along the lines of, “I love playing villains. They always have the best lines.”
I couldn’t agree with him more. From a writer’s perspective, villains are a lot of fun to write. You get to explore the dark parts of humanity you normally suppress.
But when it comes to creating the perfect antagonist for your hero, what are some things you need to consider?
1. Why are they doing what they’re doing?
Just like in the crime documentaries that have taken the world by storm, you as a writer must play the role of detective and discover your antagonist’s motive. Why are they committing the crimes they commit? What do they hope to accomplish? Their motive will usually show up in the form of their backstory, so it’s really important to know what your villain has gone through in their lives. Yes, they’ll be creating pain for your protagonist and giving the protagonist the backstory they’ll tell their children and grandchildren, but what happened to the villain? Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb is a prime example of this. He always has a backstory to explain his current actions.
2. How do they do what they do?
Are they the head of a local crime syndicate? Do they have a small strike team of operatives that take orders from them? Do they have outposts all over the country? Are they a privately run organization or are they known and feared throughout the streets? Do they make a lot of noise with public attacks? What weapons do they use? Is it a singular person seeking revenge or trying to purge the city of all that’s wrong within its borders? All of this is important for any of the much anticipated fight scenes your characters will inevitably have with the villain, even if it’s more a battle of wits than of weapons.
3. Will they change?
This is a super important aspect of your villain. Everyone loves a good redemption arc, but you as a writer have to decide if they’re going to reform from their evil ways and join the hero in a fight against evil, or if they’re going to die in the conviction that what they were doing was right. Or, are they going to win? Is your hero going to be too weak to stop them? All of these can introduce varying degrees of concern and drama for your story.
Stay tuned for more villainous musings. Who are your favorite villains? Let me know in the comments or on social media @AuthorJJHanna. I’ve compiled a list of my top ten here.
J. J. Hanna is attending Taylor University for a degree in Professional Writing. She has published multiple devotions and book reviews and draws comics about a stork named Lenard. (Find out more on the comics page.)