Written by Nathaniel Postell
The unrelenting insanity of the Joker’s laugh comes to mind when contemplating a truly memorable villain. An individual starkly contrasted to the heroic attempts of his caped counterpart, yet… oddly similar in their resolve to accomplish their vision against all odds.
What secret ingredients make a perfect villain perfect?
Read on and find out.
Compelling characters possess an inherent relatability. Heroes are often written so that the reader may identify qualities they can relate to. The same can be said for villains. Identify their motivation, what makes them tick, are they driven by passion or perhaps lured by chaos’ siren song. The importance of motivation is to justify decisions. When you are writing a multidimensional villain don’t get drawn toward evil actions for the sake of him being the “bad guy”.
Justify the decisions through the character’s motivation.
In the case of the Joker, we have seen multiple interpretations of his motivations. From the beloved Dark Knight, where he is driven by a lust for anarchy or the equally valid White Knight series, in which he longs for the Caped Crusaders approval and acceptance. His actions directly impact reader response – a clear indicator that they are engaging with the character.
An important detail to remember!! A villain causes negative effects, often operating as the story’s antagonist + giving the protagonist a conflict to overcome. A strongly written villain should create conflict through their own motivation rather than act as the conflict. Presenting a villain as a direct counterpoint can lead to cliché encounters and tired tropes. Concentrating on the “why” informs the writing and allows your villain to progress and evolve.
The history of the villain is often used to humanize his otherwise horrific acts. Showing a traumatic event or a turning point can shed new light on a character. Painting the villain through a different lens allows the reader to establish that connection through relatability. When drafting a new villain it is important to be clear and concise with their backstory.
How have their life events altered their view of the world?
How have those events informed their motivation?
!! The Joker once again offers interesting insight 👻😉 Many have made the point that his nonexistent backstory is a crucial part of his character. Emerging as a response to Batman’s heroics as a chaotic catalyst. His elusive history speaks to his affinity for chaos.
Predispositions and predilections craft the mannerisms associated with memorable villains. Creating a personality that fits with a character’s motivations and history elevates the entire story. The best villains are those the readers love to hate. A smug wipe of a monocle, a tooth grin in response to another’s harm, the hissing breath of he-who-must-not-be-named = each quality builds a believable character with their own unique mannerisms.
The Joker’s laugh cements him as a universally recognizable villain.
What lengths is your villain willing to take?
When identifying their ultimate goal, you should consider why and to what extent is your villain invested in that result. Are they willing to sacrifice their own existence or that of another’s to achieve the desired result? If so, why are they so invested? Identifying their investment allows you to ascertain scope, which is why most villains are written as narcissist. Self-indulgent individuals content on pleasing themselves with little regard for those around them. Only invested if the benefits directly impact them.
The level of investment should reflect their motivation. The Joker from the White Knight story arc was willing to give his life to gain the admiration of Batman showing the true depth of his commitment to his goal. Having a character invested to that extent forces the hero to be more invested to overcome the odds. This makes for a compelling conflict testing both character’s resolve.
#5 Consider the Hero
Heroes are the touchstone for the reader. As a result, the reader’s view of the villain often occurs through the eyes of the hero. This must be considered when crafting the villain’s narrative. The villain’s actions should be evaluated by the standard by which the hero operates. For instance, many heroic people use firearms to protect their values and are seen as good. Yet the use of firearms through Batman’s eyes is unlawful and carries an evil connotation within that universe. The reader identifies this rule set and adopts it as their while consuming the story.
This is equally applicable to creating a hero and villain that inhabit the same world. They should operate within the same ruleset, adhering to the standards established by the narrator. The villain must align with the rules of the world.
A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. He must be wicked enough to excite our aversion, strong enough to arouse our fear, human enough to awaken some transient gleam of sympathy. We must triumph in his downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of his career must be in harmony with all its previous development.
Writing baddies takes practice but with these five secret ingredients, you will be well on your way to concocting a villain worth hating.
Next post – “The Pearl Territory”, ch. 26 – #dialogue 10/11