Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

Writing effective villians?
freefall_drift at 12:09PM, Aug. 17, 2007
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Hi All,
I'm having a hard time making villains for my strip. I want my characters to have some really good challenging villain characters to best.

What makes a good villain? To give a plug to a strip I like, I thought this was a good villain monologue and gives a good idea to his actions. http://www.drunkduck.com/The_Realms_of_Aegis/index.php?p=255360

One friend suggested I simply take the characters weakness and have my villain exploit them. Is that what you all do?

I'm looking for writing exercises on how to create good villains.
I found this http://www.wikihow.com/Create-a-Credible-Villain-in-Fiction
I'm looking for tips and insights on what makes a good villain.
Freefall Drift - A sci fi space opera of a starship's mission of stopping the Endless Kings.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:31PM
usedbooks at 12:18PM, Aug. 17, 2007
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I don't do writing exercises or anything like that. Actually, I know my characters come to odds with other characters, but I never consider anyone as a hero or villain. At best, I might consider them protagonists (the ones you relate to) and antagonists (the ones opposing them), and even that can change over time. Despite that, I think I create good “villains.” I always think of them as characters with as much (often more) depth and personality as the protagonists.

Get inside the mind of the character. Consider his or her motives, past, relationships, etc.. If he is completely insane/evil, he still has a past and thoughts. His thoughts might be entirely warped in the views of the sane and the “good,” but to him those thoughts must make sense. Sure, a scary villain might exploit weaknesses, but why and how? Does he have a grudge against the specific characters, against humanity as a whole or some aspect of it? Or is he trying to achieve a personal goal (to become leader of something or attain something)? Maybe he even has an altruistic goal but wants to (or feels he must) attain it through terrible means. Or maybe (this can be even creepier) his goal is sinister, but he appears to be kind and generous to the protagonists while working towards said goal.

I think the best way to develop “villains” is by considering them the star. Remember that every character is the protagonist in his own mind. Make them complete characters, not simply an obstacle that must be overcome.
last edited on July 14, 2011 4:36PM
mlai at 12:23PM, Aug. 17, 2007
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This may help you or not: In my manga, I didn't write the arch-villain for the purpose of creating a villain for the story. The character was basically 1 of the main characters who wields power (over others). I know his motivations and I know his methods. In the course of the story, I discovered that he can actually be categorized as the true villain.

FIGHT current chapter: Filling In The Gaps
FIGHT_2 current chapter: Light Years of Gold
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:05PM
bongotezz at 4:41PM, Aug. 17, 2007
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i just parody existing villains
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:32AM
JustNoPoint at 6:02PM, Aug. 17, 2007
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IMO the best way to write an effective villain is to have well written protagonists. As ideally the villain is the antagonist to the protagonist.

You could have your protagonist be the actual villain but if you focus on him/her and make the reader sympathetic and root for the character then even a good guy can be viewed as the villain.

Generally anyone with an opposing view from your main cast is the villain. You just have to make it so that the protagonists really can't or don't want to view things the same way. Camera angles, setting, and what you show the potential villain do help set up the villain feeling. I personally like it when it is hard to determine whom the villain is. You can't tell that in the current issues I am working on but like Mlai, many of my later villains “became villains” because their motives conflict with what my story tells the reader is “GOOD”.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:12PM
SteveMyers22 at 12:45AM, Aug. 18, 2007
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freefall_drift
What makes a good villain?

Alex Ross gives a pretty good intro on what makes a good villain in the first collected edition of the Justice Series. His point, IIRC, is that the villain believes he or she is the hero.

Which taps into a lot of good villains. From Lex Luthor to Doctor Doom. It's a pretty interesting concept.

One friend suggested I simply take the characters weakness and have my villain exploit them. Is that what you all do?

I haven't even tried that yet in my comic.


I'm looking for tips and insights on what makes a good villain.

I've found that my villains come to life for me when I write them. I'm very comfortable portraying someone who's mad or angry or frustrated.

I treat Superchum as something I'm trying to strive for. So sometimes he can get a bit detached. But not my villains. They're right down in the muck and mire slogging through it with me.

My villains are vehicles for my rants, frustrations, observations, and silliness. I like writing my villains. Anti-Chum has had some great moments in the Superchum strips over the years. One of his most famous rants never got widely published so I'll be bringing it back at the end of my current chapter. Baron Bad-Guy is a totally hands-off kind of villain, who always insulates himself from the actual villainy. So I can write him with this sinister “I'm always in the shadows” kind of aura about him. But then play him off as being distracted by real life stuff going on around him. And Freezie Freeze the Ice Cream crook is my imagination on a sugar rush. I've had him encase Superchum in a giant klondike bar. I've had him create a hidden lair in the north pole made out of a large Sundae. I've had him create snowman minions out of snow cones. I've had him assault people with giant cosmic rainbow sprinkles. He's mean. He's cranky. He's utterly without scruples. But his carnage is OH SO DELICIOUS!
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:58PM
SteveMyers22 at 12:49AM, Aug. 18, 2007
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usedbooks
I think the best way to develop “villains” is by considering them the star. Remember that every character is the protagonist in his own mind.

Hey HEY! That's really the root of what Alex Ross was saying in Justice! Awesome!
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:58PM
Neilsama at 2:22AM, Aug. 18, 2007
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To me, the best way to make a villain is to just make him a normal human with values and a sensible goal. Basically, the villain should believe that what he's doing is serving the ultimate good. Villains generally don't think of themselves as villains.

For example, Magneto plans to erraticate the human population, because he believes that humans are a menace to the mutant population and that the two cannot co-exist. Emperor Palpatine enacted a military state for the sake of galactic peace. And even before that, you had Ozymandias in Watchmen who killed half of New York City in order to inspire worldwide unity. That one happens to be my favorite.

Basically, a villain is someone who thinks he's doing good but would probably flunk his philosophy class.
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:10PM
Darth Mongoose at 6:20AM, Aug. 18, 2007
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A good villain must have strong convictions that what he's doing is right. Even if his convictions are flawed, or even fabricated, he has to believe his reasons to be doing what he's doing.
Consider Iago in Shakespeare's ‘Othello’. He's a brilliant villain. He believes that he is perfectly justified in destroying Othello's life, because Othello promoted another, less experienced guy over him, and his paranoia has made him become deluded that Othello has also slept with his wife. So what does he do? He manipulates everybody, using every single character's weakness to create the impression that Desdemona (Othello's wife) has slept with the guy Othello promoted over him, then convinces Othello that the only just course of action is to kill his wife.
Another villain I happen to like is that guy from the film ‘Serenity’, who will go to any methods, no matter how incredibly evil, to do what he fervently believes is right. Unlike Iago, who is totally selfish, the agent in Serenity is very caring and honourable, but he will stop at nothing, even burning down orphanages, just to preserve order.

Often villains do things for revenge which are way out of proportion to the slight which was done to them. The wicked witch in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Maleficent (who was one of my favourite characters in Kingdom Hearts. The lady has CLASS!) Isn't invited to the christening of a new princess, so what does she do? Curses the princess to die the moment she reaches adulthood!

I guess the main thing that separates the hero and the villain, is how they react to adversity. The hero will forgive, get over it, forget it, move on or overcome. The villain will dwell on it, blow it out of proportion, take revenge, try to conquer it. The hero is grateful for what little they get, while the villain feels they deserve everything.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:08PM
Lsnewton at 6:44AM, Aug. 18, 2007
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Villain's don't have to think what they're doing is right. People do horrible things for horrible, selfish and petty reasons, and fictional characters are no different. Hell, it can be even more entertaining if they KNOW that they're evil (Joker, anyone?). It works both ways easily.

There are two factors to making an effective villain (or a serious one, at least, ignoring comedies/parodies here).
The first is dependant on your hero. Without a well-written hero there's no point in writing a villain, as villains are the antithesis of your hero. They are their weakness, their opposite, their direct competition. To come back to the Joker: Batman is dark and brooding, Joker is bright and manic. Batman is order, Joker is chaos. He is the one who makes Batman question his convitions not to kill the most, the one who tests and pushes him more than any other.
Magneto falls into the ‘think’s he's right' category, yet his views and actions are still the opposite of the X-Men's, and the moral conflict and questions that arise from their differing drive them as much as their fight scenes.

The second factor is knowing what you want them to present, how you want your reader to respond to them. Due you want them to fear this villain? Then ensure they behave in an intimidating, threatening and frightful manner. Want a sympathetic villain? Give a greater look into their humanity and character etc.

Know what you want, and what you have, then worry about details.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:48PM
spacehamster at 9:32AM, Aug. 19, 2007
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The villain who believes he/she's a hero is a fine line to walk, if you ask me. If it's done well, it works, but I find more often than not it results in villains that are too likable and cuddly-wuddly, and personally, there's nothing I hate more than that. I don't want the bad guy to be someone I'd root for.

Symbolic relationships between your heroes and villains work well if you're not hammering your point home too much. The reason Venom was so scary at the beginning was because he was like a boogeyman version of Spider-Man that knew everything about him and invaded his personal life as Peter Parker. Spider-Man is ALL about protecting his loved ones and his secret identity, and that's why Venom scared the beejeezus out of him.

As for the mechanics of writing the villain… I put a lot of emphasis on ruthlessness. They're the bad guys because they have no morals and they'll kill anything and anyone that stands between them and what they want.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:50PM
mlai at 9:48AM, Aug. 19, 2007
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Someone
I don't want the bad guy to be someone I'd root for.
Speak for yourself.

The reason bad guys are so cool is because they don't do anything the good guys do that makes us want to tear our own hair out.

"Oh noes if we kill him we're just as bad.“
”OMG he's/she's/everyone's dead it's all my fault.“
”Whine brood emo justice great responsibility etc etc etc."

OMG, STFU. Pull that rod outta your ass and make a spine out of it.

FIGHT current chapter: Filling In The Gaps
FIGHT_2 current chapter: Light Years of Gold
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:05PM
spacehamster at 12:49PM, Aug. 19, 2007
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mlai
The reason bad guys are so cool is because they don't do anything the good guys do that makes us want to tear our own hair out.

Well, the fact that some writers have a tendency to portray their heroes as total wimps is part of that problem too, yeah. I dunno, I like my villains to be fun to read, but that doesn't mean they're someone you'd root for. Darth Vader was all kinds of cool in the original Star Wars movies, but you still rooted for Luke and Han. If the bad guy seems like someone I'd want to have a beer with… he's not evil enough.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:50PM
usedbooks at 1:41PM, Aug. 19, 2007
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I don't know about “root for” (after all, if you're rooting for him, he's the protagonist maybe an anti-hero, not a villain), but I like a villain that you don't want to necessarily see killed. Even as a kid, I didn't want Darth Vader to die (you know, after finding out the whole parentage thing). No doubt he was the villain, and I didn't want him to WIN, but he was a rounded character with some redeeming characters. (Which made him a really cool character. I felt the same way about Long John Silver.) Of course, there was also the Emperor, who had no redeeming qualities (at that point anyway). He was a scary guy. There's room for all kinds of “bad guys,” so don't dismiss one way of doing it as worse or less effective – it depends on the type of story/emotions/character you're going for.

Um, anyway… Characters must have depth, but not necessarily be likable. Plus their dynamics with other characters are important. I think I (maybe others?) was misinterpreted as saying all villains believe what they are doing is “good” or “heroic.” No, I said in his mind, he is the protagonist. That just means, to a villain, he is the character who MATTERS. (Many of the really dangerous villains are especially egocentric.) So his actions must have motives. It doesn't have to be a “good” reason, even in his own mind, but it has to be for a gain, whether for himself (maybe just cheap thrills), or a group he's associated with. There wasn't necessarily some tragedy that made him “evil.” (Actually, those types of stories get irritating and are over done.) – Some people just like to cause pain. Some people are in it for the money. There's really any number of motivators for a villain. You should get into the villain's head and know what makes him tick in order to make him believable. Don't make him think like you, but you should try to think like him.
last edited on July 14, 2011 4:36PM
Darth Mongoose at 3:48PM, Aug. 19, 2007
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Thinking what you're doing is RIGHT and thinking what you're doing is GOOD are different things entirely. Iago even says he's being evil, BUT he says he DESERVES this revenge, he's entitled it because he's been treated badly, and he has. The revenge he takes is just way too much for what he's had done to him, but he's hyper-sensitive and to him it seems a balanced trade-off of blows.
There are some villains who not only believe they're being right, but being good too. Villains who simply have no doubt in their mind that they are the hero. There are villains who know they're not doing the good thing, but following the correct course of action. The Joker, must, on some level feel that he is entitled everything he gets and everything he does. On the same level, the guy in ‘Serenity’ says that he's a monster, but that it's necessary for him to be a monster to keep the peace. He doesn't think what he's doing is good, but he thinks that he's doing the right thing. What happens at the end of the film, when he finds out he's NOT right? His world collapses, he becomes a shadow, and has no idea what to do with himself. He just vanishes.

The problem if you have a villain who not only knows they're being bad, but also doesn't think they have any right to act the way they're doing is that they must either be under duress by another villain, or they're gonna break down and turn into an emotional wreck. In other words, they stop being a villain and become more like a tragic hero, like Macbeth.
Sure, you could just say ‘oh, my villain is crazy, he’s evil and he likes it'. But that's still a driving reason. With a crazy villain, they've either lost their sense that what they're doing is wrong due to a loss of empathy, or their view has been twisted to the point that they think ‘hey. I enjoy killing, why shouldn’t I have fun!?'
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:08PM
marine at 4:01PM, Aug. 19, 2007
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Writing for a villain starts with the hero. The best villains are a lot like the hero, but something in their past caused them to go a different way.

Batman & The Joker are both insane, but look at how differently they operate from one another?

Spider-man and Venom have similar powers. Venom didn't have the influence of an Uncle Ben figure in his life to teach him great responsibility with great powers.

Green Latern & Sinestro - Green Latern's got near limitless power unless he hits something yellow. Sinestro has a yellow power ring and does yellow related things.

Captain America & The Red Skull - One represents the ultimate American ideals personfied in a person, the other is a nazi superman representing faschism and evil. How is that not perfect?

Mr. Fantastic & Doctor Doom - both are super scientists who took their lives in opposite directions. Where one became a family man and tries to do better for the world, the only thing that concerns Doom is DOOM himself and how awesome he is.

Wolverine & Sabertooth - Both are feral beast guys with healing powers. Wolverine - bad anti hero type who tries to uphold a code of honor and morals Sabertooth - unflinchingly evil who kills women and children without even thinking about it. Very interesting clashes those two have with one another.

Hulk & Abombination - Hulk is a kind hearted beast who has uncontrollable rages, he lacks the superhuman intellect of his human alter ego. Ambomination has the super smarts but is unable to change back to his human form. He's also stronger than the hulk until he becomes enraged. Also I think the Ambomination is a kgb russian evil cold war kinda of deal too.

See some of the stuff there? Most of my “heroes” don't deal with villains. They usually do just regular save the day type of stuff. I do have one instance of a great villain hero meet up -

Abortion Man & Pro Life Lady - Two people who couldn't be more opposed to one anothers ideals. Abortion Man pretty much does what his name suggests, whereas Pro life Lady ironicly shoots and kills pregnant women attempting to get abortions. Conflict ensues when the two fall in love after several abortion related run ins.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:52PM
spacehamster at 9:24AM, Aug. 20, 2007
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Two very good points here.

usedbooks
it depends on the type of story/emotions/character you're going for.

I was kind of assuming we were talking superheroes or similar stories that are by and large based on the assumption that there are such things as “good” and “evil”. Personally, if that's what you're shooting for, I find stories are often weakened by villains that are too likeable. Of course “good guy faces impossible odds to triumph over evil dude” is a cliché, but so is “unfortunate guy just faced some tough breaks and ended up on the wrong side of the fight” and just about any other story idea unless a good writer injects it with life.

Christ, I'm rambling. Anyway, my point is, I don't like the baddies in superhero stories to be watered down. A lot of this comes down to personal preference, of course, but there isn't really any way to answer the original question here that's not biased by what you like.

Plus their dynamics with other characters are important.

YES. In all honesty, I'd go so far as to say that that's more important than making the individual character interesting, and that really goes for ANY genre. Ultimately, we're creating stories here, and it's how our characters interact with each other, what they do that makes a story engaging to read.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:50PM
MarcusRaven at 4:07PM, Aug. 21, 2007
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Another great trait between heroes/villains is the idea of revenge. I have a story where my main character's best friend is a living ventriloquist dummy. When the character gets real friends, the Dummy gets jealous, kills the new friends, and (through several magical and coincidental circumstances) creates an army of mannequins and tries to kill the main character. The main character is trying to get revenge for his friends being killed. Eventually, there's a pseudo-apocalyptic threat involving an ancient demon, but that's besides the point. If both characters shoot for revenge, you can have them both start out as pretty much the same. Then, through their actions, set one as a hero and one as a villain.

Strange and magical things make great villains too. Living toys, aliens, even lawyers make great villains.
When the fate of the world depends on whether you play with your toys or not, what would you do?
Dollhouse
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:51PM
mlai at 6:57PM, Aug. 21, 2007
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The most memorable villain of my childhood is the dude in Battle of the Planets.

I'll never forget the episode when the heroes finally unmasked him. And he was… a drag queen!!

My young mind was floored. I was like, woah he's GAY! That's so eeeeeeeeevil…!!

So make sure your villain kisses your hero. Especially if they're both men. Watch readership shoot thru the roof. Srsly. lmao

FIGHT current chapter: Filling In The Gaps
FIGHT_2 current chapter: Light Years of Gold
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:05PM
crazyninny at 7:32PM, Aug. 21, 2007
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When I make villians, I try to think of who would I hate to be with? Who would scare me? What qualities do I see in someone as qualities worthy of a villian?

I take what I think of, and put them together to form a villian worthy of a story. It depends on the story, the art, and the other charaters on what the villian would be.
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:48AM

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