How to Create Believable Villians.

Antagonist forces are paramount to a story and while they can sometimes be represented by a theme, such as, prejudice or oppression. Or even an internal struggle, such as, mental health or limiting paradigms , they are usually represented in the form of a person.

So how do we stop this character from becoming a one-dimensional caricature representation?

Image link-Writer tips-pen-write-threatening man

The best tip for any writer learning their craft is to read, read a bit more, and then keep reading. Study how these villains have been created; what works, what doesn’t and what you in turn would do. Another great research tool, is to study villains in movies and TV shows. Remember, inspiration comes from many sources. For more tips on finding inspiration why not click the link and check out my previous post?

First of all, remember that every single character in your story believes they are the hero. Yes, even the bad ones.

Just as your protagonist has goals, hopes and dreams, so does the antagonist. To create conflict, the villain and hero will challenge each other, doing anything in their power to stop the other from gaining their goal, because it will usually block their own journey. Play on this, use it to your advantage, imagine the villain and hero are magnetised polar opposites, doing everything in their power to repel the other whilst being constantly bonded together.

Interconnect both of Goal-Conflict-Stakes journey for maximum effect.

Whether a person is good or bad they will have a set of core values. Keep them authentic by sticking to those rules.

Villains need positive traits, just as hero’s need negative traits, it’s what makes them appear human.

Allow readers to empathise with the villain, even if they disagree. Envisage their full story, their journey and ask:

• What or who do they love?
• What are their struggles?
• What happened to them to make them behave in such a way?

Don’t fall into the trap of creating a villain that’s a psychopath or has a borderline personality disorder. This is stereotyping and, in my opinion, does more harm by labelling people struggling with such disorders as evil or somehow less than others.


Show the reader that your antagonist wasn’t always bad. Perhaps personality faults, environmental circumstances or both drove them into the villain they are today. A three-dimensional villain is never cruel, manipulative and destructive just for effect, there’s a reason behind it, so allow the reader to explore this.

Describe your villain. Not only what their physical features are like, but show any ticks or traits they might have. What manner do they hold themselves in? What do they wear? Again, don’t be tempted to stereotype; not all villains need a scar, a limp, a black cloak or death mask. In real life they’re often undistinguishable, or perhaps even charismatic.

The villain and the hero mirror each other, through similarities but also through contrast. Thus the villain will expose certain truths about the hero, that they didn’t want to admit. And vice versa, whereas the villain won’t overcome this revelation, the hero will grow and evolve into the saviour. Thus being able to conquer all that was set out before them.

Author Lorraine Ambers - fantasy romance writer

Do you have any tips on how to create believable villains? What do think of my very first Infographic?

Please share your thoughts, you know I love hearing from you.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time, Much Love.

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© Author Lorraine Ambers and, 2019.

31 thoughts on “How to Create Believable Villians.

  1. Such great advice! I’ve been totally guilty of throwing in a “baddie” with no afterthought. Never again! x-D Since then I’ve learned that a shallow pure evil antagonist is boring and not believable.

    Also, I love the charts you created. Very cool style 🙂

    Take care,

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You advise writers to “read, read a bit more, and then keep reading.” If the writer is reading all the time when do you suggest they write? I’m a very s-l-o-w reader and I consider myself lucky if I read three books per year. I’m one of those finicky readers. I can’t just pick up any book. It has to be grounded in reality in some way for me to want to read it. But I’m trying to increase the books read per year.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m not suggesting you read all day, or even for long periods, but reading is one of the best ways to learn the craft. Watching tv shows with the mindset of discovering a character arc is also worthwhile.
      And don’t forget audio books! ☺️


      1. Ok, Now you’re talking my language! Frequently when I watch a film I say to myself “Now, if I had written or shot this film I would have had this character do this, this and this….” or words to that effect.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great infographic and one I’m going to be following on my next revision to make sure my “bad guy” has enough depth. This is such valuable info and often forgotten. Nothing worse than reading a story and there being absolutely no motive for the villain and their behaviour. Thanks for sharing ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great article and I love your infographic!! You may want to add your website url to the infographic do if anyone saves/pins it, anyone who sees it can find your website.

    Villains are so much fun to write, I especially like villains ppl relate too.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. These are all such wonderful tips! I’m really struggling with the villain in my story right now. He’s revealed at the end, but when he’s revealed, he just seems like a caricature of an evil villain and ugh lol. It’s not good. But remembering that he thinks he’s the hero is such a good tip! I think that might solve a lot of my problems. 🙂 Also, I loved the infographic!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. D. Allyson Howlett

    This has given me a lot to think about. I for one, love psycho villains, but I do think it’s important to show how they became the way they are. You are 100% right on the money.

    Liked by 2 people

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  8. Fantastic tips! You’ve expressed it in a clear, simple way with such great graphics! 😀
    I feel like realistic villains are ones you can sympathise somewhat with their end goals, yet never support their means of achieving them. ‘End justifies the means’, ‘no line they won’t cross’ etc ; definitely certain ways of making an intriguing, relatable antagonist who opposes the hero.
    Quite a few great novels do present the villains as nasty pieces of work from the start, from Brian Jacques’ Redwall series to many of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books (e.g. the Zec in ‘One Shot’, Plato the Mexican in ’61 Hours’, or the Duncans in ‘Worth Dying For’). Their methods are brutal, their motives are shady and they rule by fear (all textbook ‘boring’ cliches) yet they still make for compelling villains even when introduced as truly vicious people from their first appearance. So building understandable motives and making the villain relatable, definitely. But as in any decent story, his actions and methods should shape the negative that the hero clashes against, as it’s the hero who we’re actively rooting to succeed.
    Certain villainous virtues (thanks, TV Tropes!) have definitely helped me improve the villain from my first draft; making him a very driven character who doesn’t treat his underlings as disposable cannon fodder, but is genuinely proud of their skills and loyalty & all pulling themselves up by their bootstraps – ‘started from the bottom, now we’re here’ determination. Plus having certain red lines he won’t cross / disgust for co-villains who think money is the answer to everything, has hopefully improved his motivations and empathy from the reader *crosses fingers*

    Liked by 1 person

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