How do you plan your Evil Character?

First of all, I know this is just semantics but I don’t refer to them as the “evil character” but simply as the antagonist of the lead.

We must remember that it’s not always black and white. Just because a character is antagonistic towards the main character does not necessarily mean they’re the Villain, or that they’re evil. They may seem like the villain for the main character (ie Abby from The Last of Us Part 2) but they can also be the hero if the perspectives were changed. Unless you’re writing specifically about caricature villains (as seen in superhero type of setting, most usually shown in comedic/satirical effect), they need to be well rounded characters that can exist without the protagonist.

In most cases, it’s easy to figure out if the character is the antagonist simply if they stand in the way of the main character, or if the main character is the one standing their way from achieving their seemingly nefarious goals. Even when the story involves the main character literally being a villain against the “good” heroes, the heroes are still the antagonist of the lead’s story as they’re the ones in the way. Though of course it’s important to mention that inner turmoil comes into play to this. Angst. The villain can be your insecurities, your past, your trauma, etc. But just think of them as the cause of conflict.

When they have depth. A person is not simply evil nor are they simply good. You’re not just writing a villain, you’re writing a character. You need to show their ambitions, their fears, their ideologies. It personally helps me write a character regardless of what they play in the story if they have at least some good qualities to them, even though these qualities may have become corrupted.

Honestly, I let it. Let the readers form their own opinion on the character. But if you don’t want to have your story do a complete 180, set boundaries. Show some depth but don’t forget that they’re also antagonistic for a reason.

I’m assuming the “Villain” is a literal character and not just inner trauma or something. Have as much as the story needs but I personally would stick to as less as possible. There can be lesser “villains” but there must be an actual higher enemy to focus on. Think like how an arch enemy has minions. These minions can still be villains, but we know that there’s the higher overlord of these minions. But if you don’t have hierarchy and these villains are just as bad as each other, it would probably be much harder to maintain not just for you, but for the reader as they will have a much harder time trying to pinpoint their distaste (lol) to.

Then you need to work on your other characters. Improve the plot, make them stronger. If the main character(s) really isn’t strong enough to defeat the antagonist, then maybe the journey wasn’t enough? I know most stories don’t necessarily end with the protagonist winning, but make their journey worthwhile and meaningful.


Of course I’m speaking as generally as possible since the topic can become very broad, but I’m just giving my two cents.

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My characters involve ordinary humans against pitted each other - no magic, no superpowers, so I treat them as characters with motivations in their own right. In their minds they’re the protagonist of their own story. So less villain and more antagonist who come up from conflicts of interest, not a guy going “haha for the evulz”.

In my case, it’s about choosing sides, and both sides want the best for themselves and those around them (so these are not people who’d change their stance), they’re only the antagonist in the playthroughs where you’re against them.

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I have characters who are categorized as villains in-story (it’s a superhero one) but they’re not evil in any way, shape or form; they simply have a job to oppose heroes. (There’s also other villains who may or may not be more evil. Then there’re the main antagonists who are actually not considered villains in-story. It’s… all a bit wonky, albeit there are a lot of rules for them.)

I have one that’s portraying that image on purpose (he literally calls himself “Generic Doomsday Villain”), although he’s not actually trying to destroy the world. Does that count?

Honestly? Very poorly. Usually I need to figure out another villain or the plot falls to pieces. I like my 180 villains too much :neutral_face:

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Hmmm, I have the same approach unless the antagonist is an insane Lovecraftian monstrosity :rofl: Then I don’t see them as character but rather as a force of nature and these can be fun too.

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Oh boy, called out to rant about writing. My favorite subject :wink:

So, how do you figure out this is the villain?

There are really two things we are talking about here. The first one is what I’d like to call “the malign/evil”. This is the distant evil, think Sauron rather than Saruman. Their morals are opposed to the reader, they symbolize everything that is bad in the world. You never really get to interact with them, and they tend to be a figurehead more than anything else. This is where the term “evil” can easily be used. Often they can be systems rather than persons. Skynet, not the Terminator. But that’s not what we’re talking about here I think.

So instead, let’s talk Antagonist! This is the villain that is standing in your protagonist’s way, and that is the way I define them. While the protagonist in FH calls themselves the villain, in fact, the true antagonist of the story is Ortega. In my view, villain and hero are two sides of the same coin, and the hero acts in accordance with society’s rules, while the villain does not.

As you can see from this, there is a thin line between villain/antagonist/rival, and you can’t really define it in neat boxes. Do you even need a proper villain? Who knows, but the protagonist most likely has someone they curse about when drunk, and that’s probably the one you need to focus on writing well.

What makes them the villain?
I’ve already gone into it a bit. The big one is that they are opposed to the protagonist. The second one is that they break some major societal taboos. This can be killing, being sexually “deviant” (gaycoded villains was/is so common), stealing, kicking puppets and so on as you say. HOWEVER… this has a problem, which we’ll get to in next point.

Oh no, we now love the villian.
Remember the thing I said above about breaking societal taboos? This will inevitably lead to people starting liking the villain, maybe more than the actual protagonist of the piece. The thing is, a lot of people are not too fond of society’s rules. Killing might be excused, even embraced if the villain does it to people the audience feels deserve it. Or, in service of a cause that people can empathize with. This is what happened to Magneto, once people got to know more about the background and causes, the whole “evil mutant” thing became more understandable. Striking back. Living in peace is dangerous, would you trust the people who nearly exterminated your people once?

Villains are often outcasts, which means they will be embraced by people who also see themselves as outcasts. Misunderstood. Rule breakers. Not fitting in. Of course we’d root for the villain! We are sitting here reading books, we’re not the popular hero. If there is something people can latch onto in a well-written villain, they will do so.

If you get to this point, GREAT! There is nothing better than having a sympathetic or understandable villain, because that complicates everything. However, it is important to remember that there was a reason why they were the villain/antagonist in the first place. Maybe the reader/protagonist sympathizes, but they still need to stop the death ray. There might be understanding, attraction, maybe even admiration, but they still have opposed goals.

When a villain/antagonist starts to slide towards the sympathetic side of the spectrum, often a new evil is brought in so they can team up with the hero against it. A character can, like Magneto, slide along the spectrum from villain to antagonist to rival to ally.

Of course this might mean the writer might have to handwave/forget/explain some choice atrocities in the villain past if they need it to be permament and uncomplicated. Mind control/madness/impersonators/rebirth are some classics that has been used. Both magneto, and especially Jean Grey/Dark Phoneix is a classic in trying to bend the history to suit the current story. Same with rehabilitating Emma Frost.

If you want a villain to remain a true villain, even if they might have understandable reasons, you often need to go petty evil. Yeah, it sounds weird, but that’s how you turn characters actively unlikable. Have the villain shoot someone’s dog. Kick a puppy. Be a coward. Set someone up and betray them. Abuse their loyal retainers. In the past, “sexual deviancy” ticked this box as well, but oh boy did it backfire. Now they go weird, like with the Homelander breast milk stuff. The petty, cowardly, mundane evil is something people rarely can forgive, because it’s so close to the enemies in their real lives. Genocide is thankfully abstract to most people, while animal abuse is not.

Having more than one villain in the story?

Sure! Why not? The more the merrier. Just remember that like with any member of the cast, the more you add, the less depth you can give them. If your villain turns more antagonist/rival, then by all means add a bigger threat and dig into and enjoy your resulting grey morality.

How do you disconnect when you connect so deeply to the point that you self insert to the point you can see the world…through your character eyes?

I assume we are talking about the main character here. I tend to think about major characters as if I am writing the story from their side. This makes it hard to switch gears at times, and I often have problems jumping from one part of the story to another because I have gotten stuck in a perspective. But it also helps me writing them as side characters. I have like 7 characters apart from the protagonist in FH that could have been the main character of the story. It would have been different, but still cool.

But that’s not really what you’re talking about here I think. It sounds like you have written a villain that is so disgusting and horrible to you that you just don’t want to deal with them. And thus, that stops the story.

Here is the thing. You are a writer. You shouldn’t disconnect. Your feelings are what’s important here, that pain, frustration and anger is what gives rise to good stories. I can’t give you an answer here, but I will pose some questions to you instead:

1: It is an old story. Is it possible that you have simply outgrown it? It might not be the self insert that’s the problem, it might be that it’s stuck in a past you don’t want to deal with anymore? Maybe it’s better to just put that story back in the drawer and work on something new? You still learned what you learned when writing it, it’s not wasted. Go forward and make new mistakes instead! And, if the core idea sticks, maybe you can return and write it from scratch in a decade’s time and it will wiork better.

2: Is it the villain you hate? Or is it the fact that the villain is challenging you? Or rather, someone who is close to you? Is it because it is too painful to step inside the head of someone who hates/works against your main character? This can be both tricky and painful. Getting inside the head of a villain that truly are at odds with your own morality can be disconcerting. It takes practice.

3: Might it be that you were really interested in writing about your protagonist and the villain was just an afterthought you added because you felt the story needed one? Maybe the problem is that you are trying to stick to a form that the story might not even fit? You might not need that villain. Maybe it’s better to just shuffle them off into the distance like the eye of Sauron and don’t dwell on them. Let them be evil cardboard. Maybe the real antagonist is someone else. Or something else. Is there another character you have? Maybe a rival? Or a competetive ally? Focusing on that tension might make a better story than having a villain there just to tick a box.

If your subconscious is telling you you don’t want to fix it, listen. But first try to figure out what the real problems is. Most of the editing issues people run into is that they think too small. Better words. Smoother grammar. While in reality it might mean chopping up your novel in pieces and rearranging them, skipping the first half and starting in the middle, adding three extra chapters to make transition smoother and so on. Editing is brutal.

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Hard to follow such a well-written and thoughtful post.

I can only hope my contribution to this thread will help as well.

Before I even start writing, I plan, outline and work on character sheets for my main npc characters.

Assuming that I have my narrative worked out, the next step in my writing process is to figure out the protagonist, companion characters and the main antagonist(s) and make sure they are working as intended in my story.

This is not something set in stone, as sometimes plans and needs dictate change.

The important step at this stage for me is to seek out and get feedback on my main npc characters. Feedback is essential in every stage of writing, not only at the demo presentation phase.

After I firm up the cast of characters, I write my narrative. If I need to, at any time during the writing process, I stop writing, and I create a new antagonist, or flesh out an existing character to step into the needed role.

As an example: in my Patchworks project, one of my minor npc characters has received a lot of feedback indicating people want to see more of her. Because of this feedback, I have decided to expand her role in the story and give her more of an antagonistic role in the future.

This means a lot of the “brutal” editing that @malinryden mentions happens unexpectedly. In my Émigré project, because of the feedback I received, I am revising, tearing apart and rewriting over 300,000 words.

The key here is to embrace this necessary step and make the most out of it.

Any npc character in my stories always has purpose. Malin covers this regarding “villains” quite extensively and more comprehensively than I could.

The only thing for me to put emphasis on is that the “purpose” threshold is something that all my npc characters have to meet, in order to include them in my story, not just a villain.

All the things I list for question one help me keep my npc characters on the rails I need them to. Unless I plan on the character switching sides, writing does not normally lead to this.

When something about the npc character changes for me, it is usually a result of feedback of one nature or another, and almost will always lead to the brutal editing talked about above.

Those that write using the seat-of-the-pants method, might have more to say on this than I would.

It is always o.k., as long as the narrative calls for more than one. I love having multi-layered stories, and one of the key elements to my multi-layers is including antagonists within each layer.

I often begin writing my endings early in my writing process. And for when an ending gets “screwed up” despite my best efforts… brutal editing is how I fix it.

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First, Thank you for indulging me and coming in to add your wisdom! you always give me something to chew on! :blush:

So true! All my stories are based on stuff that pissed me off somewhere…

I was making some food and chewing on this question, and I think my answer as silly as it gonna sound is that: I’m afraid.

This story I’m talking about is FINISHED. But one day if I’m still around, there is the hope of editing…well all of them.

And every time I think of the villain of that story, my brain tells me to expand on him. Yet, I don’t wanna out of fear.

My fear comes from the fact I feel like if I do that with this villain, it feels like he would take over my story, and my story change from what I wanted to be…into something else.

Usually, that wouldn’t bother me, cause hello…I’m all for the ‘Just let it go where it wants and see what will happen’’. But that usually happens during writing! Not once it’s Over!

The villain I wrote has no connexion to me or my past. I wrote a Serial killer with zero redeeming qualities.

Back then like I said I didn’t have the anxiety meds, so I thought maybe my anxiety was the reason…since without meds, I was getting triggered while writing like hell.

But even now, I still don’t feel like expanding on him.

Well, the story had 2 villains, one the main character interacts a lot with and later she is kidnapped by him. That’s how she meets Vilain #2 (The one I hate), and she figures out Evil dude 2 is the one behind the killing spree, and that dude 1 knows and has never done anything to stop him. Dude 2 is needed because he is related to dude 1 and he kill him by accident…which give an opening to the hero to kill dude 2 finally.

Editing suck…I’m dreading it lol

Thank you for your time Malin! I really appreciate it! :hugs:

Of course, it does…

So you never read a book or saw a movie where there were just too many villains, and you wish they cut someone out from the plot? At all??

Funny, I hate that word lol I know it’s the term used…

But I always confuse Antagonist with Protagonist lol

Also, I like writing EVIL. I love reading protagonists, but when I write? I don’t wanna relate to the villain. I wanna destroy him.

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I view others’ works from an execution stand-point. If the author/film maker/screenwriter has a vision of Marvel’s Infiniti civil war, with tens of atagonists, then I am on board with their vision… the execution of that vision is what makes or breaks things for me.

The Wheel of Time series is the perfect case study for me. Most everything wrong in that series (imo) is due to poor execution. The wrong author chosen to finish the series, the wrong way to talk about Mateo’s rape and abuse, etc.

What is more, the Amazonian streaming adaptation had additional executional flaws on top of what existed from the books

Everything in my post is laid out from the perspective of my writing, and what I try to accomplish.

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My own thoughts on this are:

  1. Don’t judge your characters as an author and most importantly, don’t choose favorites. No matter how ‘evil’ your antagonist is, he is the protagonist of his own story. He has reasons, motivations and/or excuses for his actions. It’s up to you to show the readers what makes them act the way they do.

  2. Expanding upon this point is the fact that ‘puppy kicking’ antagonists are an unoriginal and unimaginative way of writing your antagonists (not you, ‘your’ in the general sense). In writing, we have 3 types of character arcs: the positive arc, the flat arc and the negative arc, along with ‘crossing the event horizon’. Let’s take Star Wars as an example. Luke Skywalker is an example of a positive arc; though he suffers many challenges and temptations, Luke rises to the occasion and becomes a force for good. His ‘event horizon’ is when Vader is revealed to be his father and a tempting offer is made. Through the accumulation of experience in his arc, Luke crosses this event horizon as a ‘good’ man.
    Now let’s take Anakin. Unlike Luke, Anakin is a troublesome young man who finds in Padmé a safe haven. And it is due to this attachment to her that during his ‘event horizon’ with Palpatine and Windu he becomes an ‘evil’ man. However, in Anakin’s mind, he did the right thing. He ‘saves’ the woman he loves, however since this was a crossing of the ‘event horizon’, there’s no going back. This is the part where the antagonists actions tend to spiral out of control. They justify their actions again and again, until they reach a point where they close any and all doors to their past. After the event horizon, they become a new person, in what we call the negative arc.
    As for the flat arc, we can say Kenobi is a great example, during ‘A New Hope’. Unlike Luke and Anakin, where we see their struggles, decisions and overall choices, Kenobi already reached his ‘enlightenment’. Flat arc characters don’t change during the story and are great mentor figures, for they are a source of stability for the protagonists during their journey. The world is a storm, however Kenobi is a safe haven, always there, unchanging, stable, unyielding in his ‘flat arc’. Which is, in my opinion, why mentor figures need to be removed from your story at some point, either by dying, leaving or any way that is compatible with your plot. By losing this stable figure where Luke can retreat whenever in doubt, he is forced to face his issues on his own, grow as a person and leave Kenobi’s shadow.

  3. As for Madara, Superman or any other invulnerable character, the answer is simple. When a character is strong on the outside, he is weak on the inside. Superman for example, is practically invincible. However, although he can’t be hurt outside of very specific situations, those around him don’t have the same luxury. He is vulnerable on the inside. His weakness is caring for the people, for his love interest and being a good person overall. That’s what the antagonists will exploit and you as an author also should. Moral conundrums, dilemmas and ‘mind games’ are the kryptonite of all invincible characters.

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My personal take?

To me, for something or someone to be truly “evil”, their entire existence: their origin, purpose, motivations and goals, must all be solely for the sake of doing objectively bad things.

In my experience, no such thing exists. No one does evil things because they are trying to be evil. Their motivations might be poorly justifiable, like selfishness or maybe a misunderstanding of the world around them… but they don’t do bad things in the interest of being bad. There isn’t really such a thing as true evil.

So, when I’m writing a villain character or maybe “evil” choices for the main character, I do so from the perspective that, at the end of the day they’re trying to do something good. At least in their own eyes.

I find the most interesting villains and antagonists have compellingly justifiable reasons for their evil actions. Justifiable enough where, I might even start to sympathize with them before remembering that their end-goal plan is to punt all the puppies of the world into a volcano.

I guess what I’m saying is: give your “bad guys” real motivation. There’s a reason why they’re doing what they do, and it isn’t just because they’re rotten. Maybe they’ve got things twisted but… in some way they almost certainly believe that what they’re doing is ultimately the right thing!

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I doubt that true evil even exist from a natural or universal perspective. Sure, based on someone’s actions they can be judged bye the public, but that’s about as far as it gets. Therefore, I would say it’s all about public perception. Have ethical values that goes against the majority of the public and you will soon find yourself being called a villain. However, what would happen if you were to kill off that public? Who would be around to call you a villain then?

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I just realised that I’ve a soft spot for the characters who “descend into darkness” (or journey into villany if you prefer)

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This has the same energy as when a public speaker says “How are we doing today – I CAN’T HEAR YOU

Let’s collectively agree, as a society, not to do it.

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I want to know more about you’re opinion about WOT . Because I’m kinda taking RJ and Brando story structure as a baseline.
And about Villians I think Thanos is cool.

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Here is the link where I share my opinion on the book series:

https://forum.choiceofgames.com/t/tv-shows-movies/1120/609?u=eiwynn

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For me (a novel writer) I pick what I want the message of the story to be, for example I am currently working on a superhero one that deals with the idea that good and evil are just things we made up and that the world is more grey than black and white. And since I that is the message/theme of the story. My villain is one with evil actions but pure motives, one who the reader can agree with the why not the how. Or another example if I was writing one about the main characters morals, like highlight him as a person, then make the villain the opposite of the hero.

Basically for me it is all about the message/theme of your story, the villain has to push that idea or challenge it so that it becomes clear to the reader or at least makes them think.

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Would that description apply to idealistic tyrants? Because in a writing blog that I follow, he describes in that way of villains that his morals are very greyish when they expose everything he has lived and done to us.

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