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.
Author:
Publish date:

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

incite_vs_insight_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Incite vs. Insight (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use incite vs. insight with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Cleland_1:17

Jane K. Cleland: On Writing the Successful Long-Running Series

Award-winning mystery author Jane K. Cleland describes what it's like to write a long-running book series and offers expert advice for the genre writer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: #StartWrite, Virtual Conference, and New Courses

This week, we’re excited to announce free resources to start your writing year off well, our Novel Writing Virtual Conference, and more!

20_most_popular_writing_posts_of_2020_robert_lee_brewer

20 Most Popular Writing Posts of 2020

We share a lot of writing-related posts throughout the year on the Writer's Digest website. In this post, we've collected the 20 most popular writing posts of 2020.

Malden_1:16

Carla Malden: Writing With Optimism and Innocence

Screenwriter and author Carla Malden explains why young adult fiction and the '60s go hand-in-hand and how she connected with her main character's voice.

writing_mistakes_writers_make_talking_about_the_work_in_progress_robert_lee_brewer

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Talking About the Work-in-Progress

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake writers make is talking about the work-in-progress.

Kelly_1:15

Greta K. Kelly: Publishing Is a Marathon

Debut author Greta K. Kelly reveals how the idea for her novel sparked and the biggest surprise of her publication journey.

Poetic Forms

Mistress Bradstreet Stanza: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the Mistress Bradstreet stanza, an invented form of John Berryman.

capital_vs_capitol_grammar_rules_robert_lee_brewer

Capital vs. Capitol (Grammar Rules)

Learn when to use capital vs. capitol with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.