Tips for Creating Awesome Villains

If you have written fiction, you know how important the role your protagonist plays is to your story. Creating good villains really comes down to a couple key points. We’ve all seen awesome villains and ones that aren’t so well done. If you’re writing a story, these are some of the best tips out there for creating awesome villains:

They feel their actions are, in some way, justified

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Think about the most unforgettable villains. They all usually believe that they are doing the “right” thing, or perhaps, the “only” thing that can be done to ultimately solve a problem.

In their mind, they may see themselves as a hero of sorts. Below are a few examples:

  • Thanos (believes that by eliminating half of the population in the entire galaxy, he is ultimately saving the remaining half by allowing them to have enough resources.)
  • Dexter Morgan (He’s always been one of my favorites because, although he’s well aware that he’s a serial killer, he believes that his “code” is completely justified – that he’s the “dark defender”, as it’s so eloquently put in the series.)
  • Cersei Lannister (She believes that no matter what she does, it’s all for family. So, whatever she does, she feels it’s justifiable because “it’s in the name of family.”)
  • Magento (Believes that a war is coming either way so he might as well be the one to start it.)

Villains need to feel that their actions are justified in some way. It could be for the greater good, for someone they love or to “help” someone else in some way. Whatever their motivation, most of the time, a great villain feels that their actions are somehow “okay”, given whatever code they live by.

They are still very “Human”

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One thing that a lot of writers can easily forget is that a villain, like all the other characters, should still have “human characteristics.” They need to still have all the types of character traits that other characters have.

Villains need to have motivation, ups & downs, preferences, flaws, strengths and beliefs.

Their Background makes sense for their Motives

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Let’s talk ORIGIN STORIES for a minute. Every character has one and a villain is no different. How did their past influence who they are today? If you answer that questions, chances are, you have a pretty great villain origin story on your hands.

If you have seen or read “Hannibal Rising”, you can easily understand why he does what he does. Sure, it’s twisted, but the best villain origin stories always are.

A Villain goes beyond simply being an Antagonist

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A great villain usually goes above and beyond what an antagonist of a story would do. Yes, a character can absolutely be both. However, a “mean girl” antagonist is not the type of “villain” I’m talking about.

An antagonist will “antagonize” while a true villain will go beyond that, often taking extreme actions to solidify their villain status.

A Code all their Own

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Just like the hero of a story has a code, the best villains usually have some sort of code as well. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, just a simple set of do’s and don’ts will do just fine. Even the most horrible villains usually have a line they won’t cross. That’s a code.

Important Relationships

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I like to use “King Pin” in this example. He’s definitely a bad guy but his relationships are still very important to him. A lot of his motivation comes from the love he has for his wife, and his ideology that crime is the best way to give her the life she deserves, (or that he feels she deserves). 

Villains, just like other characters, need to have relationships that are important to them. Another great example is the character “Dexter Morgan.” Even though he’s a serial killer, he still have relationships that he values. Harry, his adoptive father, appears to him as a sort of “moral compass” throughout the series.

*Sorry for all the Dexter references, I just really loved him as a character. 

Similarities between the Villain and the Hero

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Some of the best villains actually have quite a lot in common with the hero of the story, (from their perspective, at least). Some of the best stories ever written have a sort of parallel between the villain and the hero. Maybe they share similar values. Perhaps they want the same thing.

Here are a few awesome villains and the traits that made them awesome:

Negan (The Walking Dead)

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  • Before the show totally hit rock bottom, we met the leader of a rival group, “The Saviors.” – STRONG leadership qualities (however brutal).
  • Believed his way was “the only way” to keep everyone going.
  • Had a good backstory about his wife Lucille.
  • Devilishly humorous. (The bits of humor used in his dialogue made for great entertainment).

Walter White (Breaking Bad)

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  • He had his reasons for doing what he did – Cancer, leaving his family money when he dies.
  • Awesome character development – (I’M THE ONE WHO KNOCKS)

Billy Russo – Jigsaw (The Punisher)

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  • Had many “human” characteristics such as charm, flawed in the sense that he had anger issues, the ability to control a group and the need for solid relationships.
  • Wasn’t “always” a villain and had a rich backstory.

There are many other awesome examples, but it’s time to get writing.

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Experimenting with various traits, characters and stories is ultimately the best way to get that awesome villain we all love to read. Use these guidelines, (and break them, of course), and come up with a fantastic character.

Remember, some rules are meant to be broken – (The Joker just wanted to “watch the world burn.”) 

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Happy writing, nerds 🙂





Krissy October is a professional freelance writer, aspiring novelist and knowledge nerd who is dedicated to consistent self-improvement and finding clever ways to solve everyday problems.

1 Comment

  1. This is a great post, very thorough. I love the examples that you use. Thanks for the infograph!

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