How To Write The Motivated Villain

Compared to the hero, a villain needs explaining on the author’s part. I suggest you design him with care to justify at least some of his vile actions. The villain is the driving force of your story’s conflict. Plain evil is boring, but an unpredictable mix of motives keeps the reader turning the next page. 

I’ll call my villain “he” throughout this article just to make things easier. You can create a fantastic female villain by using the same principles. Some of the most memorable villains are female—femininity coats cruelty with an extra layer or opposites. Remember that not all heroines are kick-ass fighters. Softness on the surface makes the fangs hurt more upon a venomous bite. 

Villain or Antagonist?

Although authors might see villains and antagonists as the same coin’s different sides, they’re two separate things. The antagonist is a plot device, a person, or an oppressing societal system the villain personifies (like O’Brien in Orwell’s 1984). When personified, the antagonist’s sacred assignment is to sabotage and delay the protagonist’s plan. Hell, even mother nature can play the part of an antagonist. Tie the antagonist to the type of conflict you choose as your story’s backbone. 

More information on types of conflict: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-conflict-in-literature-6-different-types-of-literary-conflict-and-how-to-create-conflict-in-writing#the-6-types-of-literary-conflict

The villain is a character type: beast, bully, mastermind, devil, traitor, or tyrant, for example. 

More information on different types of villainy: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-write-different-types-of-villains#4-tips-for-writing-compelling-villains

Having a Backstory

Without a believable, layered villain which you can peel like an onion, your story flattens. Pure evil is a caricature: one-sided and predictable. Think about your favorite books: why do you remember that particular villain? 

“But a well-written villain doesn’t fit neatly into the evil box. The best villains are nuanced. Think Hannibal Lecter, Gollum, Baby Jane. There’s a reason why these villains need no introduction. You remember them because they’re complex. They are evil, but they’re not just evil. They’re disturbing, haunting, and unnerving. You can’t look away from them in much the same way as witnessing a train wreck.”

Source and more information: https://nybookeditors.com/2020/01/developing-a-sympathetic-villain-for-your-novel/

Using a character questionnaire helps. Divide the villain’s traits into negative and positive.

Examples of Negative Traits

  • Who the villain hates, and why? Hate is a driving force.
  • What or who does he fear? Fear can make your villain vulnerable, but also drive him to the most heinous acts.
  • What line won’t he cross to get what he wants? Yes, there is a line even he doesn’t cross!
  • Ask him to define a weak person. Does he despise weakness or feel pity?

Examples of Positive Traits

  • What are his best traits? Perseverance, loyalty, courage?
  • What is his happiest memory? The birth of a son, getting married, killing his first victim?
  • Who are his friends? People he looks up to, peers/colleagues, or faceless minions?
  • Who does he love, and why is that person worthy of his devotion? Because she belongs to the hero? Because she is out of reach?

Source and the entire set of character questions: https://s3.nybookeditors.com/blog/PDF/Interview-With-a-Villain-20-Questions-to-Ask.pdf?mtime=20191230064028

Motivating Your Villain

Below is a list of excellent motivations, but the sky is the limit when you mold a villain that breathes. Design a motivation which you haven’t seen before.

–         Romantic interest: love and sexual desire are among the strongest motivations on earth. A person will cast aside self-preservation, even stop eating or sleeping. Neuroscientists compare love to psychosis; it’s a state of ultimate bliss and chaos in the human brain–consuming. And yes, the sugarcoated and the vindictive views on that special someone are useful for a writer. You see the person you want to conquer as perfect, but if she dates someone else, that ideal view covers with darker, bloodier colors.

–         Duty and honor: at war, your side is the good guys and the enemy the bad. If you have to kill a fellow man, there can be no doubt. But the noblest motivation of doing your duty can turn into the famous last words uttered before a military tribunal: “I only did my duty. I obeyed orders. I had no choice.” Some of the most haunting books and movies deal with this moral question.

–         Revenge: being wronged in the past. Nothing drives a blade through the squishy human heart like revenge. Serve this meal hot or cold; it’s always delicious.

–         Fear: the hero is the real danger to peace and prosperity. The villain cannot refrain from acting when Superman will demolish earth.

–         Family issues: who hasn’t rebelled against a father, or felt like the black sheep? If the king denies your right to the crown, shall you melt into the shadows to plot an uprising? The character of Loki is a famous example.

–         Fame or status: classic movie villains strived for world domination/causing the apocalypse just because they could. Rewrite the worn-out trope with a twist: the villain seeks to develop the society. Think of the most massive human experiment in history: the communist dictatorships. The road to hell might indeed be paved with good intentions and the will of men who could.

–         To fit in—everyone needs to feel accepted, to belong. What if the people around you are crazy and fitting in means losing your mind? This is the question which the hero Winston Smith asks in Orwell’s 1984. In addition, the villain is more crazy and intelligent than poor Winston can ever become.

–         To develop, and not only as evil. What if the villain’s noble goal just happens to hurt other people? 

–         A desire to better humanity: the fate of mankind demands developing a superior mutant race via cruel human experimentation, making a pact with the world-conquering aliens, or surveilling everyone from the cradle to the grave to keep them in line.

–         Desperation: raises the stakes and heightens the conflict—on both sides. What if the villain attempts to keep his family safe? What reader wouldn’t identify with his motive?

–         Loss of perspective. They say the first victim of war is the truth. You can lose perspective when the thirst for scientific knowledge overrides everything else. The advancement of a military or political career causes collateral damage. Hunting a fugitive through thick and thin makes the character ignore his fundamental values.

Being Right

The villain is always right if you ask him, and as a consequence, the protagonist is wrong. Turn the tables: if this were the villain’s story, would good and evil mix with grey shades? Or would he use magic to turn black into white? Right and wrong are perspectives. If Nazi Germany won WWII, the meaning of terrorist and resistance fighter would trade places. The winner writes the history books and no one is a war criminal in his own mind.

Being Charming

Give the villain charm and let him seduce the reader. Thus, he becomes another reason for the reader to keep reading. You also cause a mix of conflicting emotions when the villain rips apart his victim–according to his nature.

Having followers

Create secondary characters and enamor them with the villain. What villain doesn’t enjoy a court of like-minded followers? How scary is the high-school bully without his posse? Remember that the followers see positive traits they admire. No one follows for the devil because they love evil.

A Force To Reckon With

Make the villain equal, or preferably more potent than the hero. This way, you’ll keep the reader on her toes. The villain must do his job so well that the reader no longer believes in the hero’s success (or survival) during the critical plot point called the darkest moment.

Using Scene Trackers and Plot Points to Plan Your Story

Beautiful woman in the magic forest

You might wonder what to insert into my Scene Tracker Template or Plot Point Graph. If you’re a pantser, you know your story by heart and use the tools of plot-weaving instinctively as you go. You might strip needless elements and refine your story as you reach the editing phase. But if you’re serious about being a professional writer, you must study your beloved craft and recognize plot points, character arcs, and other tools of drama.

Here are my methods of outlining:

Scene tracker model (Microsoft Office Excel).

PowerPoint Plot Graph Template (Microsoft Office PowerPoint).

Download files from the Internet at your own risk.

The files make it easy to analyze the dramatic arc and structure of your story.  If you don’t want to plan your draft one meticulously, use my templates as a refresher of your memory before you start revising your second draft. You don’t have to include all the crucial plot points, and your arch can curve up and down several times to surprise your readers.

Think of each significant event in your story as a sequence which consists of:

  • setup
  • complication
  • crisis
  • resolution

Your book is one instance of continual transformation which composes of smaller events (acts), which in turn comprise of chapters and scenes. I like to know my word count, and that’s why I included it in the Scene Tracker. I also keep track of days and months which pass in my book, just to stay level with continuity issues.

Keeping Track of Scenes

Scene= “a part of a play or film in which the action stays in one place for a continuous period of time.”

A scene means a small section of your novel where your characters engage in action or dialogue. They are mini-stories with a beginning, middle, and end. A chapter contains one or many scenes. Usually, the scenes within a chapter are related to one another. If you change location, or the clock of your manuscript moves forward, give the reader a pause in the form of moving into the next scene or chapter.  Scenes are like pearls in a string. Each story consists of these pearls, some small and ordinary, and others big, shining ones which surprise the reader.

Both templates let you add cells/boxes for your key scenes and plot weaving mechanisms.

Great scene beginnings include:

  • Put unusual events in motion
  • Tone-building scene setting
  • Intriguing backstory
  • New, interesting viewpoint
  • Introduce uncertain factors

More information: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-scene-beginnings-grab-attention/

Great Scene endings:

  • Cliffhanger – place your protagonist’s life is at risk or produce some other threat which forces the reader to turn the page and begin a new scene/chapter
  • Revelation –something changes the course of the story
  • Setback– one of your characters should be frustrated about the latest event
  • Reveal a secret–a full secret or part of it to keep the mystery going
  • Question left hanging –teasing the reader
  • Unexpected plot twist –keep the reader guessing.

Character Arcs and the Three Acts

“A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character throughout a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different kind of person in response to changing developments in the story. “

Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_arc

Your protagonists and antagonists evolve through character arcs. An excellent way to build conflict is to make the main character unable to overcome an opposing force at the beginning of the story because he/she lacks skills or resources. The main character must change through learning or achieving new capabilities. Let the MC interact with the environment or produce a threat or a charismatic mentor. At the heart of your story lie conflict and change.

Plotting a Novel in Three Acts

“Aristotle plotted in three acts, and almost every story comes with a beginning, middle, and ending. Act One makes up 25% of a storyline, with Act Two taking up 50% and Act Three, the final 25%. The story is divided in half as well, with the midpoint squarely in the middle of Act Two. The first half of a story involves introducing characters, themes, motivations, settings, conflicts, and important elements. In the second half of a story, all its threads untangle.”

Read more about The Six Key Scenes of Aristotle’s Incline and source of the above snippet: http://livewritebreathe.com/how-to-plot-a-novel-in-three-acts/

Plot Points

A plot point is an incident which impacts what happens next. A plot point:

  • Moves the story in a different direction
  • Impacts character development
  • Closes a door behind a character, forcing them forward

Plot points form a whole, each piece informing the event before it and after it.

Seven-point

Image source: https://blog.reedsy.com/plot-point/

Examples of plot points:

Hook: A story must start off strong to keep the reader reading. The Hook is the point that pushes a novel into motion and sets it apart from others.

First Pinch Point: The middle of the story consists of the character reacting to the Big Event and its respective consequences. Pinch Points put the character under pressure.

Midpoint: Perhaps the most crucial plot point occurs near the middle of a story. The midpoint is a critical turning point that forces the protagonist to stop reacting and start acting.

Final Pinch Point: For the second half of the middle, the protagonist experiments with the agency, taking different approaches to overcome the conflict. The protagonist reacts to or acts on pressure and conflict, with middling success.

Final Plot Point: Going into the third act (or the beginning of the end) there is one Final Plot Point. This shows the protagonist at their lowest, having taken a profound misstep among their newfound actions, which drives them directly into the Climax and Resolution.

Resolution: A great story will end on a Climax, Realization, and Resolution, a series of events that bring the story and character arc in full circle. Usually, these revolve around a choice presented to the protagonist.

Source and more information: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/what-is-a-plot-point/

How to Design Plot Points

  • Draw them from your central idea or theme
  • Show desires, motivations, and setbacks
  • Place plot points at crucial structural junctures
  • Create points of no return
  • Create and arrange summaries of each plot point

Tension

Tension is a product of uncertainty and the resulting suspense we feel.

“To take the analogy of watching a tightrope walker, we know they are moving from an A to B of safe ground. Yet between these two points, how things turn out depends on many variables. Their balance, focus, and how they place their feet. And how swiftly they correct any stumble.”

Source and read more: https://www.nownovel.com/blog/writing-a-scene-that-engages/