Thanos, Darth Vader, Hans Gruber -- all three are memorable villains. Villains force a hero to rise to the occasion. Without a villain, a hero would just be hanging out and going through their typical day. Villains drive the conflict. Villains provide a foil to compare to and better understand the hero. A strong villainous character can elevate a film, while a weak, forgettable one can drag a movie down. Are you wondering how to write a villain character in your next screenplay that elevates your story? Keep reading for the key ingredients to a great bad guy.
Remember That Your Villain is a Person, Too
Crafting an exciting villain often requires you to spend just as much time understanding and learning about them as you did with the hero. Being a villain doesn’t mean that you can attribute the reasons behind your character’s actions to the old line of “because they’re evil” reasoning. You have to dig deeper. Villains should have flaws and internal conflicts that drive them. There should be an internal need for them to accomplish their goal beyond the idea that they crave destruction, money, etc. Is your villain sure of their actions? Do they feel forced into their behavior? These are interesting things to explore that can make a villain feel more human.
Give Your Villain Something to Believe In
Villains have a value system, too. Or, they should. In real life, everyone believes in things, and those beliefs motivate people’s actions. Why should movie villains be any different? What makes for an exciting hero-villain dynamic is to see their value systems in conflict with one another. The villain’s value system can mean that they believe their actions will make things better or perhaps that they’ll find justice for a situation.
In “The Avengers” movies, the villain Thanos believes that wiping out half of the universe’s population is best for the survival of all livings things based on a belief system he developed after seeing his home planet destroyed by overpopulation. His beliefs line up with The Avengers’ protagonists as they also aim to save the universe, but how they want to achieve that differs, and therein lies the source of conflict.
Your Villain Has to Win … Sometimes
A villain that is continuously defeated by the hero and never sees any of their plans succeed isn’t a very effective villain. The audience needs to believe that your villain is a threat, and for that to work, we need to see them succeed at times and watch the hero lose. In the end, the hero can prevail, but getting there should feel like a struggle, and your audience should feel as if they don’t know who will win. Even if your hero does win, maybe they lost in some other area; maybe they sacrificed their personal life to stop the villain, maybe the villain is a sign of changing times, maybe this villain was only the first of many.
Remember the adage, “Your hero is only as good as your villain.” It exists for a reason. A compelling villain makes for a compelling hero. When crafting a villain, they need to be more than just evil or crazy; they need to have reasons and beliefs that back up their actions. Whether writing a hero or villain, focus on creating aspects to them that will feel real and relatable. Happy writing!