Skip to main content

4 Techniques for Creating Believable Villains

The protagonist's conflict with an opposing force—usually in the form of another character—is the essence of every novel.

The protagonist's conflict with an opposing force—usually in the form of another character—is the essence of every novel. And what can be more fun than turning that opposing character into a serious baddie—a truly despicable fellow with no redeeming qualities? Take the fun too far, though, and you'll create a one-dimensional "cartoon character" who leaves readers feeling cheated, says author James Scott Bell in Conflict & Suspense.

Bell offers these strategies for creating multifaceted, believable bad guys:

  1. Do a complete backstory for your villain. Look for those places in his past that explain why he does what he does in the present.
  2. Allow yourself to find a sympathy factor. If you can make the reader feel this, it lends a powerful current of emotion to the experience. It's not that you're approving of the action of the bad guy, but you're forcing yourself to see him as less than pure evil.
  3. Justify the bad guy's position. No matter how bad it seems to you, the bad guy thinks he's in the right. He does what he does because he thinks he's entitled.
  4. Give at least one beat in your story where the justification is made clear. This will create a crosscurrent of emotion in the reader, and that is what you want.

Read an excerpt from Conflict & Suspense here:

Conflict & Suspense excerpt

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unreal Character

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Unreal Character

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character turn out to be less than they seem.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 15th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.

Valeria Ruelas: On Teaching Tarot, Brujeria, and Witchcraft

Valeria Ruelas: On Teaching Tarot, Brujeria, and Witchcraft

Author Valeria Ruelas discusses the process of writing her new book, The Mexican Witch Lifestyle.

What Is the Hook, the Book, and Cook Query Pitching Technique for Writers?

What Is the Hook, the Book, and the Cook Query Pitching Technique for Writers?

Find out what "the hook, the book, and the cook" are in relation to writing query letters and pitching books to literary agents and book editors. This post answers the question of what each one is and how to successfully assemble the pieces.

Romance Retellings of Literary Classics

Romance Retellings of Literary Classics

Author Chloe Liese makes a case for the romance genre being the natural home for retellings, and shares some tips on how to write a successful romance retelling of literary classics.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 30

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. And now we're on Day 30.

Rae Meadows: On a Personal Passion Inspiring Literary Fiction

Rae Meadows: On a Personal Passion Inspiring Literary Fiction

Award-winning author Rae Meadows discusses how her lifelong love of gymnastics helped inspire her new literary novel, Winterland.

The Fae

The Fae

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, your character discovers that there are fae in their backyard.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Day 29

For the 2022 November PAD Chapbook Challenge, poets are tasked with writing a poem a day in the month of November before assembling a chapbook manuscript in the month of December. Day 29 features our fifth (and final) Two-for-Tuesday prompt.