LTUE Notes: Creating Effective Villains

Today’s selection of notes from LTUE comes from a presentation on creating effective villains by Leigh Averett. Leigh is an unpublished writer who loves villains and has made a particular study of them. She was very interesting and entertaining to listen to, but the nature of how she presented things made it a bit hard to take good notes.

Four main points for creating effective villains.

1. Motivation

Motivation is a staple need for all characters, but it’s especially important for villains. Insanity is not motivation—it’s a weak excuse for writers. Better examples: vengeance; to rule the world; to be the best assassin. The villain must be justified in their own mind.

2. Why are they evil?

Rule: The villain is not evil because they do bad things; they do bad things because they are evil. The evil comes first. Bad things stem from an evil heart. (Important because a hero can do bad things, but it’s about intent and where the heart is. It goes back to motivation.)

3. The villain is independent of the hero

The villain does not exist just to fight the hero. He isn’t evil just because there’s a good hero. You can’t hate the villain just because he’s a villain.

Evil overlords have a lot of wasted potential. How do they feel when they’re alone? Probably just very sad because they’ve put themselves in a place where nobody can love them. Only fear.

4. Antagonist is not the same as villain

Example: In Les Miserables, Javier is the antagonist, but he is not a villain. He has a good heard with noble intentions. On the other hand, Thenardier is a villain. He does all sorts of awful things.

Villain and hero are archetypes. Stories don’t require those archetypes, let alone as primary characters. It’s your choice to use them.

Q&A Notes

Villainous flaws:Look up Peter’s Evil Overlord List

Examples of great villains: Emperor Palpatine, Clu, any villain from Brandon Mull (The Candy Shop Wars, Fablehaven), The Lord Ruler.

The fallen hero—Is he irredeemable or not? What would motivate him to stay in a fallen state?

Female villains (this was my question)—Very difficult. Women are more emotionally complex. A female villain often has to be emotionally dead, and that makes them hard to do.