In writing, it’s important that the reader relates to the protagonist or the main character. They’re the hero of our story. The good guy/gal. If the writer does their job, then we know the protagonist well. But what’s a hero if we don’t have an anti-hero? You must have a conflict in your story or it would be boring. The bad guy/gal is the antagonist or villain.
What should the reader know about the villain? Everything! What makes them tick? What turned them into the villain? The main characters need to be three dimensional. A good writer knows that somehow, no matter how difficult, the readers must connect with the antagonist, even if it means that we love to hate them. What’s more fun than observing someone stands up while watching a movie, and screaming, “Somebody shoot this guy already!” That doesn’t mean there aren’t some wicked women out there, but replace guy with gal and see how it reads.
Most people say they always try to find the good in someone. Not me. I see glaring flaws, but it’s not limited to other people. I do the same thing every time I look in a mirror. Maybe that’s why I don’t have any mirrors in my house. That was a lame joke.
When I write about antagonists, I have a wealth of annoying characteristics to draw upon. But a writer can’t just focus on them, the villains need to have some good qualities. Look at the TV show Dexter. He’s a likable guy as long as you don’t think about him as a serial killer with a moral code. Kudos to the writers.
Jerry Jenkins, author of 21 New York Times bestsellers, wrote the following Villain Characteristics Checklist:
- He’s convinced he’s the good guy
- He has many likeable qualities
- He’s a worthy enough opponent to make your hero look good
- You (and your reader) like when he’s on stage
- He’s clever and accomplished enough that people must lend him begrudging respect
- He can’t be a fool or a bumbler
- He has many of the same characteristics of the hero, but they’re misdirected
- He should occasionally be kind, and not just for show
- He can be merciless, even to the innocent
- He’s persuasive
- He’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants
- He’s proud
- He’s deceitful
- He’s jealous, especially of the hero
- He’s vengeful
That’s quite a list, even though it seems contradictory to me. When I wrote The Hunter: Will You Be Next? The villain is a charming, helpful, all-around good guy. And a ruthless, sadist serial killer. I won’t go into details about that book because it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s a horror novel and the only one I’ll ever write. The villain in The Chemist: A Psychological Thriller, had a wealth of good qualities as well, even if you didn’t know about them until the end of the book. No one has ever figured out who the villain was until I told them. That’s not the ideal way to write, but there were clues throughout the story. If I included more, than that would have revealed the killer’s identity.
Some courageous authors write from the Villain’s Point of View. I think it would depend upon the storyline if a writer takes that route, although there are writers and their fans that enjoy some of the darkest storylines. If the villain is the high school bully, I might not have a problem with that, but again, the qualifier: how violent does it get? The villains in my books are killers. Even I couldn’t stomach knowing what they were thinking and all the gory details of their kills. Okay, maybe that’s not correct. I do reveal the gory details, and I let the reader glimpse what’s going on in the villain’s mind, but there’s no way I could stomach a book where I knew every detail and as a writer, I have to know all those details! Talk about a contradiction. Whoever said writing was easy?