The Wailing Writer | wicked villains and their pivotal role in your story

On a white background is black typewriter font, with light pink shadow, states the wailing writer.

Welcome back to my attempts at writing! This is a look into my process of completing my โœจfantasyโœจ novel. Because of this, it may read like a guide, but *surprise* I am just learning myself. I am by no means an expert, I am simply sharing this journey to hopefully help people, including myself, as I go and make writing less lonely.

After fleshing out my fantasy world, it was time to look at the next important step… VILLAINS!

๐Ÿ„The Wailing Writer | a step-by-step guide to fantasy worldbuilding

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understanding your villain(s)

firstly, I want to cover “what is a villain?”

You may be thinking we don’t need to discuss this definition, but alas, one of my unpopular opinions is that the book community sometimes uses the term “villain” too freely. I say opinion because I know this is just my opinion, and people are free to use a word however they want. It is just my personal preference. For the sake of this post, I wanted to clarify what I shall be talking about so it makes the most sense to you.

I see “villain” as a purely technical ‘storytelling’ term. Not because real people aren’t evil, but because writing is built around a structure and thought. Characters are supposed to feel free thinking and true to themselves, but the reality is everything happens intentionally. Villains naturally are part of this order, a technical role they are required to fulfil. You cannot squash reality into a closed framework because it can’t be structurally defined like storytelling. I emphasise this because it makes more sense when I say villains require four specific things. These are; wicked goals, cruel intentions, evil methods and actions integral to the plot.

The first three are how you will show them as evil and build them beyond a single act they keep repeating. The final point is the most important. Villains are not side characters, their actions shouldn’t just pop up when convenient. They need to be constantly changing the environment and nature of the story. They are one of the most pivotal characters, and you must ensure they are proactive.

My definition brings in the debate; do villains always have to be evil? My life is much simpler because my answer is yes. Villains have to be evil. The discomfort villains provide is why they are such powerful literary devices.

But, not all antagonists are villains. Therefore, you can have antagonists that are not evil. So, the first question you have got to ask yourself is, “does your book have a villain?”.

If not, there are plenty of interesting characters to play your antagonists, such as anti-villains and anti-heroes. I would consider these more popular than villains but often (falsely) called villains. Regardless, I love them as characters too because they are fascinating and pull lots of emotions from readers.

These definitions are not that serious. Yet it is important to consider because whilst parts of their development will be similar, the core centre/purpose is different for each antagonist archetype. The best way to be aware of this is by labelling them beforehand, e.g. anti-heroes evoke more sympathy in reading. Whereas villains resemble the discomfort and fear that I find so mesmerising.

*phew* that was a long intro.

developing your villain

step one: consider examples

You need to look at existing villains in an analytical way to get you thinking of what it takes to make a villain personal and nuanced.

Homelander from The Boys

An ingenious villain who is a position of/symbolises hope, power and honour, but he is incredibly corrupt. Those in positive positions almost have the greater capacity of being evil. He is easily the most fascinating character on the show.

Ayt Mada from The Green Bone Saga

One of the best series to grace this earth. FACTS. Naturally, it needed to have a strong villain. The series is centred around a clan rivalry. Ayt Mada is the leader of the enemy clan and presented herself as a calm, ruthless, strategical villain. Absolutely perfect for the setting. The relationship between her and Shae (the highest ranking woman in the clan we are following) is brilliant as they share what it is like to be female in this environment whilst fighting against each other.

Loki from Avengers Assemble

Loki’s personality is soo entertaining (especially with Thor). I would only class him as a villain in Avengers Assemble (don’t fight me on that ๐Ÿ˜‰) because of mind control. I think mind control is a great way to have an interesting empathic villain (albeit temporarily) and it means you get 2-for-1 on the villains.

Cersei from Game of Thrones

Female villains are often femme fatale or just bad mothers. Seeing Cersei who was a caring mother but completely evil felt quite revolutionary to me at age 14. Her power and selfishness were very well done.

The Fever King

I have not named the villain as I feel it is a spoiler as the story reveals who the real villain is near the end of book one. It emphasised personal closeness and cruelty making an extremely unsettling villain who was well-developed.

The Commandant from An Ember in the Ashes

If you’ve been in the book community a while, you’ve probably heard of The Commandant regardless of whether you have read these books or not. I loved the exploration of women in power (again), but it was how ruthless and cruel she could be which really got my attention. But, importantly, it was not senseless, ensuring there was plenty of depth to her character.

Mother Gothel from Tangled

Disney has done an array of villains which are good to look into because they emphasise different appearances and traits so children can differentiate. Mother Gothel is such a great one because she is emotional manipulative which you can see in all her actions and speech *pay attention*.

Regina from Once Upon A Time Season 1

Specifically season one as from season 2 she changes and, to me, one of the rare instances where a character going from villain to friend worked. Her actions are completely evil in s1 as she makes everything suit her, and only her. But, the depth that is explored is *chef’s kiss*.

Helena from Her Majesty’s Royal Coven

A book with a villain you will hate (๐Ÿ˜ก) but you actually get her perspective. Getting her POV felt bold as it is quite hard to follow an unlikeable character to this extreme but seeing how her mind worked was frustrating but compelling. To me, it was one of the strongest elements of this book.

Joffrey from Game of Thrones

Joffrey was the evil, annoying, coward villain. This type of villain can sometimes feel basic and one-dimensional but Joffrey was entertaining in his villainous way. It was almost fun to hate him and such a universal experience which has a power of its own.

Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender

My girl! Honestly, I don’t want to call her a villain but she fits the role in the show. I loved the power and control she kept, especially as she seemed to enjoy holding it over people. Plus, her relationship with Zuko is interesting.

Damien from A Neon Darkness/The Bright Sessions

Damien sometimes feels borderline anti-hero/villain but I would say his actions lean more on the villain side. With powers of mind control, his story develops the complexities and difficulties of this power making a very fascinating, “villain-origin” story.

step two: questions for your villains

Next, consider the four requirements I mentioned earlier (goal, intention, means and plot). You could even answer these questions for your example villains to feel out different answers.

what are their goals?

They have to have a goal. One worthy of a villain. Villains have to be very proactive to cause disruption and attention. You need to make their goal strong and big for the same reasons. It also has to be believable for why they care so much about succeeding.

Some common goals can be murder (often for revenge see below), power, or destruction. Think of common villain types (e.g. obsessed scientist, trickster, bully, strategist), this will help you find a starting point if you are struggling. Take it one step further, how can you play with these villains moulds to create something new.

example: CERSEI LANNISTER. Her goals were to kill her husband, stay in power and protect her children. She had to ensure succeeding at one didn’t impact the other goals.

what is their intention/motivation?

I hate this question. What motivates someone to be evil? I hate it. Because there are very few reasons that people come up with, myself included. In fact, it will normally be (either or all)… revenge, power-hungry, or daddy issues.

Sadly, I don’t have loads of advice for this part. Sometimes it could be a correction (of an injustice etc.) they seek and then you can add a lot of personal details relevant to your plot to make their cause stand out.

Either though I joked about how common the reasons above can be, they are still solid examples and you can flesh each one out a lot. Revenge and power are always interesting themes.

Black typewriter font states a personal tip with light bulb outline to the right of title, all on pink background.

You could look at ‘contemporary antagonists’ because being grounded in real life they could provide more variety in motivations. Or look to your own life, who has upset you? Why do you think they did it?

example: CERSEI LANNISTER. Her husband didn’t love her, power-hungry and her love for her children. Love is often linked with revenge but it is a really interesting trait in a villain.

what methods do they use?

This will be very personal to the individual villain, but important to consider. How do they go about getting what they want? Manipulation, partnerships, violence, fear, laws, secrets, death.

Which is their favourite method and why?

example: CERSEI LANNISTER. Her family’s influence of power and money to buy people to do her bidding. Often violent methods to suit her needs and she never trusted anyone so she came out on top. She was a strategist in essence.

how are they pivotal to the plot?

Villains are developed early in the plot developed because in many ways they create the purpose/movement of the story. Ask yourself, how does your villain continually push the plot forward?

Here you could consider their relationship/how they interact with your hero/other characters. A popular way is your hero and villain being related or their journeys mirroring each other.

example: CERSEI LANNISTER. She is in the centre of royal politics as she tries to keep power and influence. She constantly tries to push events in her own favour so she can remain the most powerful and is careless with people’s lives. Therefore her self-interest often shaped the political landscape in one of the major settings of the show.

what is a genuinely good quality of theirs?

As tempting as it is to make them all evil, it is more realistic for them to have an array of traits. If you have a manipulative villain they will often be very charming. If a strategist, they will be intelligent. If a trickster, they will be funny or entertaining. How are you going to show their good traits?

Or it is more a case of certain relationships bringing out their good side. To see they genuinely care and engage with someone without evil intent.

Basically, you need to flesh our murderers past the murders.

example: CERSEI LANNISTER. Her intelligence and love for her children were her greatest strengths.

consider their appearance.

As fun as it is to have formless blobs, you need to describe their image. What do they look like? What is their style? How does this reflect their personalities/power?

example: CERSEI LANNISTER. Her style reflected where she lived and her power and wealth as a Queen and a Lannister.

step three: bonus questions if applicable

Now, you should have a comfortable understanding of who they are and how they will influence the plot. If you want to take it one step further, you can consider these questions (whether in your head or on paper) to develop more specific and personal details…

  1. what does their ‘space’ look like? what do they put out for public view? what does this reveal?
  2. what are their most protected secrets?
  3. how do they treat people ‘less than them’?
  4. what are their weaknesses? what are they scared of?
  5. what, if anything, would stop them from reaching their goal?
  6. are they likeable?
  7. who are their closest relations? (person, pet, worker)
  8. are they in the highest position of power? If not, how do they treat those ‘above them’?
  9. do they have limits to violence/manipulation? any lines they wouldn’t cross?
  10. have they ever failed before? how did they react? why did it happen?

There are lots of these questions that you can consider so if you have any good ones, please let me know in the comments! ๐Ÿ–ค

๏ฝก๏พŸ๏ฝฅ*.โ˜†๏พŸ characters โ˜†๏พŸ.*๏ฝฅ๏ฝก๏พŸ

Black typewriter title on white background, saying how i'm currently feeling. A pink happy and sad face at each end of title.
Megamind fan club, where you at?
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“A villain must be a thing of power, handled with delicacy and grace. They 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 their downfall, yet not barbarously nor with contempt, and the close of their career must be in harmony with all its previous developments.”
~ finding beautiful truth (Tumblr) ~

who are your favourite villains? what made them stand out to you? what motivation do you give your own villains? what do you think is the most challenging aspect when developing villains?


13 thoughts on “The Wailing Writer | wicked villains and their pivotal role in your story

  1. I love this post (probably because I love a good villain, anti-villain, and/or anti-hero)! Thank you for the great tips!! I think the hardest part of writing villains is giving them a recognizably *human* aspect. I feel like I see a lot of writers write villains as very static, flat, and shallow characters, who don’t have their own motivations and/or who don’t change and flow with the narrative. Because of this, the villain can become a bit of a caricature. But when a writer gives a villain depth, complexity, and a good motivation? *chef’s kiss*! I will note that one thing to be careful about with villain appearance is to not use the tired ableist trope of making your villain disfigured and/or disabled to “physically represent their evil nature.” I see that a lot as well, especially in childrens, middle grade, and YA fiction, and it’s not only ableist and harmful, but also just lazy writing, imo. Anyhoo, another great writing post from you Sophie! Thanks for making me think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! Yess antagonist characters can be soo good!! ๐Ÿ˜
      I’m glad I could potentially provide some tips as well. I agree that you need the human aspect to be fleshed out, not just one good act and job done. The human part is a very living part and should evolve with the story. When it is done well, it is amazing!
      100%, my writing class mentioned how harmful and unnecessary to make villains disfigured/disabled. It is important to note and it is such a shame that it is present. Thank you for adding this point onto the post.
      I am so happy you are liking these writing posts and thank you for your comment Lila ๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ’—

      Liked by 1 person

    1. THANK YOUUU!! ๐Ÿ’œ so glad this post could potentially help you! aw… honestly thank you so much for complimenting the formatting/graphics, it means the world *sends hugs and plenty of books because u deserve them*


  2. I love villians which is probably bad but they always tend to have such fascinating backstories. I think finding out why they do the things they do is part of the draw towards them in fiction. Plus, in some cases, their unpredictability.

    I seriously need to read An Ember In The Ashes & The Green Bone saga next year. I’ve heard such incredible things about both and it really frustrates me that I still haven’t got around to reading either.

    Game Of Thrones had some wonderful examples of villians, especially as they differed from one another so much. Joffrey must be one of the most hated ones of all time, surely? And Cersei was just ruthless. And I love Regina from Once ๐Ÿ˜ I agree that she’s one of the rare cases where a transformation seems to work. I loved her as a villian but adored watching her grow & change too. Her storyline fascinated me so much.

    I agree that you need to think about how they’ll affect the plot & not just randomly have them pop in to cause havoc. Looking at their good aspects too is important like you said as they need to feel like believable people and can’t purely be one sided.

    I love all of your questions, they’d definitely help to shape a fascinating villian and give some good insight into what makes them tick. I’d love to see a villian Q&A with them!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, villains have such prominent places in fiction and they deserve our attention. Heroes have to be predictable at times, whilst villains have free range and sometimes you can’t look away from that!

      An Ember in the Ashes’ villain definitely makes you hate her, but every book you learn something more about her. I would love to see your reaction. It has been a while since I read them though.
      I love the Green Bone Saga, the main characters are sometimes as morally dubious as the villain though ๐Ÿ™ˆ

      Game of Thrones did villains you could hate so well. As I have only watched the show, the actors can take some credit for that ๐Ÿคฃ Joffrey has to be the most hated but Cersei was one of my favourite characters to watch!
      Regina did have a really good arc, the transformation took time and care which really paid off. One of the best evil queens EVER!!
      If you haven’t seen Avatar The Last Airbender, Zuko had a journey like that as well. Sooo good!!

      Yeah villains randomly popping in doesn’t give them enough time to seem like real people which is often the most interesting part of them. I also think it helps with plot structure if you can understand the villain’s cause too.

      Thank you!! Trying to get into their mindset, what a dangerously fun task ๐Ÿ˜‚ but I am so happy you think they would be beneficial too. I would love a villain Q&A now too ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They definitely tend to keep you on your toes and are generally the ones to shake things up.

        Ooh now I’m even more intrigued!! I’ll definitely let you know when I finally read them. I’m hoping it’ll be early next year. I think I know what my first five books of the year will be but Ember will most likely be in the lot after that (I’m trying not to plan too far ahead & overwhealm myself).
        Ooh that sounds intriguing!! A book I read last year was like that too.

        Ooh that’s true, I’ve only watched the show too. I do want to read the books one day though…if my tbr ever stops growing ๐Ÿ˜ฌ
        She definitely kept you guessing!
        Yes she was constantly but gradually changing. And they gave her real motivations for both how she was and how she changed
        Oh really? I’ll try to check it out sometime. Anime had never really appealed to me but I’ve never actually watched one so I may like it. Used to occasionally enjoy Sailor Moon a long time ago anyway.

        Yeah they definitely need to be defined and make some sort of appearance at points other than the final conflict. I love when books throw in their POV at times too. When done well its so chilling!!

        Definitely a daunting but exciting one. Yes, so glad I’m not alone!! Villian interviews ๐Ÿ’—๐Ÿ’—

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yay, my plan worked ๐Ÿ˜‚๐Ÿ˜ˆ oohh it could be close then! True, getting too ahead of plans can get very daunting, just a couple of books at a time.
          Oohh what book was it??

          Haha I know, TBRs have magical powers ๐Ÿ˜‚ the game of thrones books seem a commitment and a half as well! My library has a bind of the first 5 books and it is over 5000 pages *gulp*

          Definitely the motivation was well thought out and it makes a big difference! It is what I dream of.

          Yeah, Avatar is good and I don’t think it is technically anime as it is an American cartoon but as it is as Asian inspired fantasy, it feels like it should be anime. So it could be a good first/second one in that case. I’ve never seen Sailor Moon by I’ve heard good things.

          Villain POV is amazing. I think it is quite tricky to do but amazing! ๐Ÿ˜

          Yay, love it โค๏ธโค๏ธ

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Definitely ๐Ÿ˜…๐Ÿ˜… and yes, best to focus on a few & just enjoy them.
            City Of Dusk. Definitely some dark deeds by those involved.

            They do seem to!! I think mine grows when unwatched. Omg seriously? I knew they were long but that much?? As a single physical book? If you fell asleep & dropped it you’d knock yourself out!!

            Aww I’m sure you could do it. You can tell how much thought goes into your writing.

            Oh right. I really didn’t know that. I’ll let you know if I do end up watching it. I honestly can’t remember anything about it tbh, just aware that I’ve seen some ๐Ÿ˜‚

            Yes definitely difficult, especially for the darkest villians but always a plus to discover.


            Liked by 1 person

            1. Oh yes I remember you talking about City of Dusk. I was definitely curious about it!

              I know ๐Ÿ˜‚ so long, that bind up is only as an ebook I think because you could do some serious damage with a physical copy ๐Ÿ˜…

              Thank youuuu ๐Ÿฅบโค๏ธ

              Aw.. Obviously no pressure, but it did pleasantly surprise me in terms of my enjoyment.

              Very interesting indeed!!

              Liked by 1 person

              1. It has received pretty mixed reviews but once I got into it I loved it.

                It must be. Otherwise it would need it’s own shelf in the library too ๐Ÿ™ˆ๐Ÿ™ˆ

                I’m glad it was a nice surprise for you then (:

                Liked by 1 person

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