Eight Unknown Tips On How To Create A Memorable Villain or Antagonist (Part II)

In the previous blog post, we determined the difference between a villain and an antagonist, before discussing the first four of the eight unknown tips on how to create a memorable villain or antagonist. These tips included:

  1. The actions of the villain/antagonist being the catalyst for the main character’s journey;
  2. Making the actions of the villain/antagonist challenge the main character at every stage of the narrative;
  3. Giving the villain/antagonist a rational reason for acting the way he/she does;
  4. Deciding the endpoint for the villains/antagonists

In this blog post, we shall the look at tips 5 – 8 (inclusive) on how to create a memorable villain/antagonist.

Tip 5 – Give The Villain/Antagonist A Story-Arc

Like the main character and his sidekicks, the villain/antagonist must have a story-arc i.e. he must be affected by the events of the novel and be a changed person by the end of it. Think of Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight. He starts off as Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ as he is legitimately fighting crime as the District Attorney (compared to the vigilante Batman, Gotham’s ‘Dark Knight’).

But as the Joker undermines the police force and the justice system, Harvey Dent begins to take the law into his own hands. Then, he has half his face blown up by the Joker, who concurrently murders his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes. Both spur Harvey to kill those who have wronged him; and before long, he extends this to wanting to kill the loved ones of those who have wronged him. Suffice to say, by the end of the film, Harvey Dent is unrecognisable (both physically and in terms of his character) from the man he was at the beginning of the movie.

The fifth of the eight unknown tips on how to create a memorable villain or antagonist is about giving the villain a story-arc
Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) has an astonishing story-arc over the course of The Dark Knight. From being Gotham’s ‘White Knight’ at the beginning, he gets blown half back to hell and becomes a murdering psychopath by the end of the movie.

Tip 6 – Give The Villain/Antagonist Traits That Make Him/Her Enjoyable And/Or Admired, But Feared At The Same Time

The sixth of the eight unknown tips on how to create a memorable villain or antagonist is about giving the villain/antagonist the right blend of characteristics. The writer should consider a variety of characteristics and features that make an antagonist enjoyable to read and/or admired by the reader, but feared at the same time. These can include him/her being physically imposing, charming, charismatic, cunning, ruthless, sociopathic, and/or humorous (but in a way that erects the hairs on one’s arms and neck), etc…

For example, Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem) in Skyfall. He is ruthless and murderous (as Bond baddies tend to be), but Silva is also confident, flamboyant and humorous (particularly in the scene where he tests Bond’s sexuality). Silva undoubtedly makes the film, and it is (almost) a shame that James Bond kills him in the end as viewers (like me) would have enjoyed watching more of him.

The sixth of the eight unknown tips on how to create a memorable villain or antagonist is about making him revered
Silva (Javier Bardem, left) and Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid, right) are both villains. Yet, they have very different traits.

A more scheming type of villain/antagonist is Palpatine/Darth Sidius/the Emperor from the Star Wars prequel trilogy. During Episodes I – III, we see his intelligence, political acumen, and calculating nature. As a Senator, he creates the Separatists to cause strife and make himself the Chancellor. And as Chancellor, he creates the Clone Army and the Clone Wars to increase his powers. By the time the Jedi Council realise that he is a danger to the Republic, it is too late and Palpatine starts a coup to outmaneuver his opponents and turn the Galactic Republic into the First Galactic Empire. (Suffice to say, Palpatine is the best character in the prequels, and his scenes make up most of the best parts of the films.)

Tip 7 – Give The Villain/Antagonist A Flaw Or A Weakness

The seventh of the eight unknown tips on how to create a memorable villain or antagonist is about giving him/her a flaw or a weakness Villains/Antagonists are people, and all people (however great) have flaws. The same must be true for the villain/antagonist in the writer’s novel.

For instance (again), Chancellor Palpatine. He may have the cunning of a fox and the strength of a lion between Episodes IV – VI, but he also under-estimates Anakin’s conscience and sense of love. This flaw leads to Palpatine’s demise after he tries to kill Luke, Anakin’s son.

The seventh of the eight unknown tips on how to create a memorable villain or antagonist is about giving him a flaw.
Palpatine and Lord Tywin are both brilliant in many respects. But both have flaws. And their flaws lead to their respective downfalls.

Likewise, Lord Tywin Lannister. In many respects, he is a Machiavellian genius. But he treats his dwarf son, Tyrion, appallingly and pays for it after sentencing Tyrion death for a crime he did not commit.

Lastly, take Loki, a man who is cunning, politically shrewd, manipulative and funny (not to mention hell-bent on destruction). But he lacks physical strength and suffers awfully from envy, both of which are always his undoing.

Tip 8 – Give The Villain/Antagonists People To Work With

Once more, villains/antagonists are people, and no-one can do everything on their own. People, particularly powerful ones, have others that they depend upon and who they turn to for counsel from time to time. The same must be true for the new writer’s villain/antagonist, otherwise he/she comes across as insincere; and each sidekick must advance the plot in some way.

For example, in the Harry Potter series, Lord Voldemort has Bellatrix Lestrange and Professor Snape, amongst others, whom he consults with. That Bellatrix tortured Neville Longbottom’s parents ensures that Neville strives and fights to defeat the Dark Lord; whilst Snape’s treachery ensures that Dumbledore can put a plan in place to thwart Voldemort.

The Dark Lord does not act alone. Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter, left) and Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman, right) are two of his sidekicks. Both have a role in the events that unfold throughout the Harry Potter series.

Similarly, Lord Roose Bolton in ASOIAF, as of A Dance With Dragons (the fifth instalment in the series), holds court with Lord Wyman Manderly, Hother Umber, and Lady Barbrey Dustin, among others, as he does his utmost to keep Lord/King Stannis from taking the North. There is evidence (and a lot more speculation) that Lord Wyman is actively betraying his liege lord in favour of a Stark return, while it remains to be seen how Hother Umber and Lady Barbrey are going to help (or hinder) Lord Bolton in the next instalment.

(Oh, and note that all the people with whom the villains/antagonists surround themselves with must have personalities. For tips on how to create engaging secondary characters, click here and here.)

Exercise

Assess the villains/antagonists that you have liked in books, films and TV shows, and which ones you have not liked, or hated even. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What was it that made them memorable for you?
  2. What were they like as characters?
  3. What did they do to the main character?
  4. Did you find the endpoint for the villains/antagonists satisfying (or not), and why?

Jot down the answers in the comments below. Elsewise, thank you for reading this blog piece and I hope all of the above helps you create noteworthy and complex villains/antagonists that enrich your story.

Paul

PS: To read more writing tips, including what to avoid for villains/antagonists for subscribers only, please fill in the form below.

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