Book Writing AdviceBook, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2021

Villainy 101: Worksheet and Examples for Writing an Effective Villain

EditrixJD

A great villain in literature is complex, terrifying, tortured, and sometimes vulnerable. While you might already know a bit about how you want your villain to act as the bad guy, it can be difficult to create a multi-faceted character that draws your readers into the story and keeps them hooked. Your hero becomes even more heroic if he has a worthy foe, so make sure you spend just as much time developing your villain as you do for your hero. In this post, I'll provide a detailed worksheet to help you flesh out and perfect your villain character and offer detailed examples of villains from existing works of literature and media.

What's the difference between a villain and an antagonist?

Before we get to work on dissecting your specific villain character, it's important to distinguish a villain from an antagonist. To do so, let's introduce the definition of a protagonist and go from there:

  • A protagonist moves the story further by attempting to achieve a goal.
  • An antagonist opposes the protagonist's attempt to achieve a goal, but he or she isn't necessarily an evil character or a villain.
  • A villain is inherently evil and can be either a protagonist (attempting to achieve a goal) or an antagonist (opposes the protagonist's attempt to achieve a goal).

In other words, being the villain does not necessarily mean being opposed to the protagonist.

Consider Megamind from the film of the same name; he ensures that we understand his commitment to being the bad guy, and he is also the protagonist of the story and the one we all root for. On the other hand, an antagonist isn't always a villain. In Moby-Dick, the white whale is the antagonist whose motives oppose Captain Ahab, but the whale is not motivated by evil purposes.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you

Knowing that your villain is motivated by evil desires, you can delve deeper into what made the character what he or she is today. Perhaps you want to reveal some trauma in childhood that made your villain a monster but one for whom your audience feels a glimmer of compassion. Every facet of the villain's personality will contribute to the way your readers relate to the character, so take some time to decide how you want your villain to be received.

Take a look at the following worksheet and consider how you might answer in terms of your villain. If something doesn't fit in with your vision, take a step back to make some changes until everything clicks and you've created your perfect villain.

Villain Characterization

Describe your villain (appearance, attributes):
What made the villain evil (event, person, environment, circumstances, etc.)?
Does your villain know that he is the bad guy, or does he believe he/she is right?
Does the villain feel wronged in some way? How?
By whom?
What does the villain want?
Motivations to pursue this outcome:
How does this desire conflict with the protagonist's goal?
How does the villain feel about the protagonist?
How does the protagonist feel about the villain?
How are they different? Similar?
Does the villain have support individuals (henchmen, minions, etc.) or is the villain alone?
If applicable, how does the villain treat these followers?
What advantages does the villain have over the protagonist?
How does the villain hurt or manipulate others?
Does the villain actively pursue victims or wait for them to come to him/her?
What does the villain do to create drama or suspense?
Does the villain eventually change?

To illustrate this type of character analysis, let's explore the answers to these worksheet questions in the context of two well-known villains in literature: Voldemort from the Harry Potter series and Lady Tremaine from Disney's animated Cinderella.

Voldemort characterization

Voldemort
You-Know-Who, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or the Dark Lord

Describe your villain (appearance, attributes):
Voldemort existed for years as a being without a body, and even after securing one, he lacks a nose and is pale, bald, and gaunt. He is driven by rage and lives in a constantly intense emotional state.

What made the villain evil (event, person, environment, circumstances, etc.)?
Author J.K. Rowling describes her villain as a psychopath who comes from an evil family. Voldemort then seems to choose this path of evil for himself; even as a schoolboy, Voldemort engages in cruel deeds against others for no obvious reason.

Does your villain know that he is the bad guy, or does he believe he/she is right?
It seems clear that he is fully aware of his villainy; he goes by the name "The Dark Lord" and seems to have no hesitation for killing those in his way.

Does the villain feel wronged in some way? How?
At a fundamental level, Voldemort resents his father and his bloodline for being un-magical. However, most of his actions are motivated by his resentment of Harry for having resisted his power and escaping death.

By whom?
Mainly Harry Potter, but also Dumbledore and the other characters who help Harry escape Voldemort's attempts to destroy him.

What does the villain want?
Voldemort seeks absolute power.

Motivations to pursue this outcome:
His is motivated by the pursuit of evil and a sense of genetic royalty.

How does this desire conflict with the protagonist's goal?
Voldemort is frustrated that anyone can withstand his attacks, so he seeks to destroy Harry to prove that he is all powerful. Harry, on the other hand, seeks to stay alive, so he must then try to destroy Voldemort and strip him of his power.

How does the villain feel about the protagonist?
Voldemort feels pure hatred and resentment toward Harry.

How does the protagonist feel about the villain?
At first, Harry feels bewildered that someone would seek to destroy him, but as the journey progresses, Harry's own hatred toward Voldemort grows.

How are they different? Similar?
They are both powerful wizards who have a strong support group. They both attended Hogwarts under the direction of Dumbledore. However, Voldemort is driven by evil intent, while Harry seeks to do good.

Does the villain have support individuals (henchmen, minions, etc.) or is the villain alone?
Voldemort has an army of wizards and dark creatures who help him overthrow those helping Harry or hindering Voldemort's purposes in any way. They do not balk at the task of murdering or otherwise harming the "good guys."

If applicable, how does the villain treat these followers?
He appreciates their devotion and shares power and privilege with them, but he also shows no compassion toward them.

What advantages does the villain have over the protagonist?
Voldemort has years of wizardry under his belt and is therefore a powerful wizard, while Harry is still a young student who is not fully aware of his own strengths.

How does the villain hurt or manipulate others?
He has no moral limits to harming others, usually through magic. His followers also take on positions of power in order to hinder Harry's success at school and pave the way for Voldemort's plans.

Does the villain actively pursue victims or wait for them to come to him/her?
Voldemort often lures Harry into his traps, making sure to isolate Harry from his supporters. He takes a rather passive approach to his eventual attacks.

What does the villain do to create drama or suspense?
His mere presence (or lack thereof) influences the tone of the story. When word of his return is spread, the protagonists start to prepare for his imminent attacks.

Does the villain eventually change?
Voldemort never does see the light and is eventually destroyed.

Next up is Lady Tremaine, the villain in Disney's Cinderella. Although it's a movie targeted to children, the villain/hero relationship in this story illustrates a unique within-family struggle, which the heroin manages to overcome.

Lady Tremaine characterization

Lady Tremaine
Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella's charm and beauty, she was grimly determined to forward the interests of her own two awkward daughters.

Describe your villain (appearance, attributes):
Lady Tremaine is a tall, confident woman with graying hair. She is tough and impatient when those who surround her do not share her vision.

What made the villain evil (event, person, environment, circumstances, etc.)?
Her evil deeds are driven by jealousy for Cinderella and maybe some grief for her late husband.

Does your villain know that he is the bad guy, or does he believe he/she is right?
Lady Tremaine seems to feel righteous pride for her own station and that of her daughters.

Does the villain feel wronged in some way? How?
Lady Tremaine seeks to correct the imbalance of love her late husband had for Cinderella over her.

By whom?
Lady Tremaine targets Cinderella as the source of her misfortune, since Cinderella is more beautiful than her biological daughters and as such threatens to receive better circumstances.

What does the villain want?
She is largely motivated by the desire for prosperity. She goes to great lengths to see her own daughters marry into fortune.

Motivations to pursue this outcome:
She is largely motivated by the desire for prosperity and privilege.

How does this desire conflict with the protagonist's goal?
Cinderella has no desire for her stepsisters not to succeed, but Lady Tremaine seeks to prevent Cinderella from serving as an obstacle to their good marriages by mistreating her.

How does the villain feel about the protagonist?
Lady Tremaine feels deep jealousy and hatred for Cinderella.

How does the protagonist feel about the villain?
As a determined optimist, Cinderella remains civil toward her stepmother, but during a low point, Cinderella reveals exasperation toward her stepfamily and their hopeless cruelty.

How are they different? Similar?
They were both loved by Cinderella's father, and they both are unemployed women within their society. However, Lady Tremaine is cruel, while Cinderella is kind-natured.

Does the villain have support individuals (henchmen, minions, etc.) or is the villain alone?
Lady Tremaine has two biological daughters who, although not brilliant, share her motivations.

If applicable, how does the villain treat these followers?
She clearly feels exasperation toward her daughters for their idiocy and inability to take charge of their own abilities, but she strives to facilitate their success to further her own reputation.

What advantages does the villain have over the protagonist?
As head of the household, Lady Tremaine has a level of emotional power over Cinderella, and as such, Cinderella follows her orders to serve the family. Lady Tremaine's cruel punishments for disobedience also keep Cinderella in line.

How does the villain hurt or manipulate others?
Lady Tremaine insults Cinderella and gives her menial tasks to set her at a lower class than her own daughters. She thinly veils her cruelties with excuses and feigned kindness. She also prevents Cinderella from reaching her own success by enslaving her.

Does the villain actively pursue victims or wait for them to come to him/her?
She sets expectations for Cinderella to serve her, so Cinderella is forced to encounter Lady Tremaine on a daily basis.

What does the villain do to create drama or suspense?
When an important opportunity arises, Lady Tremaine gives Cinderella increased assignments and destroys any possibility that Cinderella can attend the event. Finally, when Cinderella has overcome nearly every obstacle her stepmother puts in her way, Lady Tremaine locks her up and destroys evidence that Cinderella is the prince's choice for a future wife.

Does the villain eventually change?
The film does not dwell on Lady Tremaine's defeat, but her character's development leaves little confidence that she would feel any remorse for her manipulations.

Having explored the motivations and characteristics of these villainous characters, you can see how complex they are and the importance of knowing these details about a story's villain. After exploring your character further, can you see him or her more clearly? Put your own villain to the test to see if you can further develop your character!

Get in-depth guidance delivered right to your inbox.
Subscribe
Chat With Us