Creating Memorable Villains
One of my favorite things about writing is creating the characters. I love the protagonist and the supporting characters but I have a special place in my heart for the villain of the story. When writing your antagonist it’s important to give just as much attention to their backstory as you do for the protagonist. This gives them realistic layers that will make them jump off the page in a lasting and memorable way.
In my Silke Butters Superhero Series, I created a faction of villains that go under the name of The Sin Squad. Each of them embodies one of the Seven Deadly Sins and they have the powers that relate to those sins. In part one of the series, Karma, you’re introduced to Greed. I spent a long while on making Greed a real person by developing her past and detailing how she fell in with the Squad in the first place even though none of the winds up in the novel. Her journey became one that readers gravitated to almost more than the hero Silke. You don’t want your bad guys to outshine the main players but if I’ve got readers asking for spin-offs with the Sin Squad I’m ok with that.
In the video, we dive into some of the best baddies of the past few years:
We learn in the video how adding a sense of realism to the villains, and giving them a purpose rather than being crazy for crazy sake, makes them resonate more with the audiences. I briefly touched on The Joker in the video but with the recent release of Tod Phillips movie and the portrayal of the iconic character by Joaquin Phoenix getting so much recognition it really amplifies my point.
For the majority of the iconic character’s tenure in the comics and on-screen, he’s been a maniacal sociopath whose purpose seemed to be torturing Batman for fun. Tim Burton was the first to explore a backstory of why The Joker turned out the way he did. In 1989’s Batman it was revealed that the man who would become Joker started as a gang member, was dropped in a vat of acid by our hero, and slowly went insane because of it. How can you not empathize with that?
2019’s film goes even further back where the majority of the film focuses on Joker as a sad sack of a guy with a mental issue he’s being treated for. Throughout the film he’s beaten, laughed at, and rejected this, coupled with his growing mania, is what ultimately makes him develop The Joker persona. Under the clown makeup, he matters to the world.
So this is the type of deep-diving exercise you want to explore when writing your villain. Not all of it needs to wind up on the page but you should have some idea of why they’re doing what they’re doing.
One of my absolutely favorite on-screen baddies is the nemesis to Daredevil. The Kingpin is a mob boss who takes what he wants by any means necessary. In the comics I really can’t stand the guy but what the TV show did was give him strong purpose for his actions and actor Vincent D’Onofrio played the character so well that I agreed with part of what Wilson Fisk was saying. He just wanted to clean up his city, that was his goal. It’s in the way he goes about doing that which makes him the juggernaut villain that Daredevil has to stop.
When you give villains purpose and backstory it makes them real people rather than inflated cartoon characters. Believable actions make a believable story and create a memorable villain.