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March 5, 2012 / Chersti Nieveen

6 tips on how to Create a Villain with Depth, starring Alan Rickman

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If you have a villain in your story, then here’s some great advice from one of the BEST VILLAIN ACTORS EVER: Alan Rickman (Snape in Harry Potter) you MUST check out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpG9YaPF-nM 

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m not playing the villain. I’m playing somebody who wants certain things in life — has made certain choices — and goes after them.”

And here, he repeats himself on another movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpG9YaPF-nMhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZ2LMDT6xrU&feature=g-vrec&context=G2bf634aRVAAAAAAAAAQ

“I’m not playing a villain. I’m just playing somebody who has a certain  checklist of things that he wants in life and he goes after them. And other people … decide that is appalling and has to be stopped.”

Alan Rickman isn’t in denial there. He’s point out a key piece of advice for creating your villain: NO ONE goes through life thinking “I’m the bad guy.” (Even Mother Gothel…)

From what I can see, there are two types of villains.

1. The Baddie who just loves being bad

This is your basic serial killer type, who kill just for the pure pleasure of it. They have no qualms about what they are doing, and most of their thinking doesn’t quite match up with society. He’s got Sociopathic tendencies. Think Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker. This is the person who does things just because he can.

2. The Baddie who doesn’t realize he’s a baddie

This type of villain can range across the spectrum. It’s the person who wants to know the answer and will do whatever it takes to get that answer, including torturing or killing innocent people. It’s the person who sacrifices morals when the need arises,

When we look at The Mummy and it’s sequel (we’ll ignore the third one since it was just weird), we see two couples deeply in love. On the good side, you have the flashy American hero, Rick, and his girl, Evie. And the baddies are the mummy, Imhotep, and his girl, whats-her-name. Rick is a great hero, but he doesn’t have qualms with killing people. He’s good in a fight, but when it comes down to it, he usually makes the right decisions. He does anything to protect his family, and a complex hero that we love to cheer for! Now Imhotep loves his girl so much, death cannot separate them. He resurrects the girl’s spirit in her reincarnated body so they can be together. But in the end, she gives into selfishness, and instead of saving Imhotep, she runs away to save herself. But if you go back to the beginning of their story, their whole relationship was based on mutual goals, and a mutual selfishness. In the first movie, Imhotep selfishly wants his girl back, and he is willing to sacrifice another girl to get that. As tempting as that is, could you see Rick doing that same thing to get Evie back?

Every character you write faces one choice after another. Will they follow the values that society has given us–trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, clean, and reverent (thank you Boy Scouts for providing me a great list!)–or will they follow their own selfish desires? Will they help a fallen comrade even if it means they would die as well, or will they leave a man behind to save their own skin? The more you switch up these characteristics in your protagonist and villain, the more complex your characters will be. A good example of this is Firefly, where the characters are essentially murderers and thieves, but wait . . . they are the good guys. They are loyal to each other, and fight for what they feel–and what the audience would agree–is right.

Here are some further tips to consider when creating your villain:

[1] Match your villain to your story. Now when you are creating the villain for your novel, it’s important that your villain match your story. You can’t have a Hannibal Lecter in a YA Romance. It just doesn’t fit. So when considering your story, think on the scale where your villain falls. From schoolyard bully to serial killer, there is a wide range to pick from.

[2] Make the villain as 3-dimensional as your protagonist. Give the villain backstory, which might include a traumatic event that led the him being a villain. That could be their motivation for making the choices they do. You don’t have to add that to your story, but it will help flesh out the character in your mind, which will come across on the page.

[3] Add the good to the bad. Remember to flesh out your character, and a good villain isn’t purely evil. They have good attributes mixed in there as well. You know that old saying to “show the villain kick the dog?” Well maybe have the villain love dogs, so he treats them better than he does humans.

[4] What does the villain want? Usually this goal collides with what the protagonist wants. Or sometimes the goals are the same (an extreme example would be world peace), but the villain will sacrifice horrible things to obtain that goal. Think Nazis where the ends justified the means. This is exactly what Alan Rickman was talking about.

[5] Sincerity sells the character. You have the make the villain truly believe what they are doing to make your villain believable.

[6] Remember the comeuppance. The villain has been horrible the whole book, and the reader wants them to get what they deserve. That doesn’t mean kill off your character. In the second Harry Potter book, Malfoy’s comeuppance is when he loses his servant, Dobby, because Harry tricks him into giving Dobby clothes. After treating Dobby so horribly the whole book, we are so excited to see Malfoy go servantless for the rest of the series. And in some books, this never does come around.

Here’s a thought for the day: Sherlock Holmes would’ve made the world’s best villain, but instead he constantly chose to solve crimes instead of instigate them.

So who’s your favorite villain? What makes that person so appealing to you? And what’s your favorite film with Alan Rickman?

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15 Comments

  1. C. Michelle Jefferies / Mar 5 2012 9:46 am

    I love Alan, and I love Firefly. I’m begining to wonder if this says something about me. I think the hardest thing to do in writing a good story is writing a good bad guy. Thaks for the post.
    Michelle

  2. Carol Riggs / Mar 5 2012 9:48 am

    Great run-down! And really important to make that “villain” understandable and well-rounded if he/she is a person. My fave Alan Rickman movie? While I like him as Snape, I always think of him as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Oh boy! ;o) Totally evil, but for a reason, with loads of insecurities.

  3. Chersti Nieveen / Mar 5 2012 9:59 am

    Michelle: If it says something about you, it says the same thing about me! Both are AMAZING!!

    Carol: I think watching him as the Sheriff of Nottingham was my first time ever seeing him! And whatever role he is cast in, he is amazing. Seriously. To be honest, my favorite is watching him in Love, Actually. He’s still a villain-type, but he’s also just a plain guy who screws up. He’s just so good. And he was absolutely perfect as Snape.

  4. Nikki / Mar 5 2012 11:02 am

    Great post! Villains are so crucial. I’m especially drawn to the Snape-type villain over the Voldemort type. I like the conflicted ones whose motives are a little ambiguous, where you’re never sure whether they’ll lean toward the good or bad choice. The true evil ones are too predictable for me. 🙂

  5. Gaylene Wilson / Mar 5 2012 2:09 pm

    Good villains are so hard for me to write. I have to work really hard at finding their motivation and past. But I have to remind myself of how much I loved Snape — how believable he was throughout the entire series. Amazing. My dream is to someday write a villain as complex as him.

  6. Audrey / Mar 5 2012 6:10 pm

    These are some great tips! I’m particularly fond of number two–I personally think that heroes are only as good as the villains. If the villains are too cardboard-ish, then they never seem like a real challenge to the heroes, and then things just aren’t as interesting as they could be.

    I actually wrote a post last week on my three favorite villain archetypes (http://audreymgonzalez.com/?p=485), and a lot of the villains I love to hate are on there: Azula, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Umbridge, etc. All evil and despicable in their own ways with varying characterization and methods. I think that the best stories have just as big a variety in villains as they do in heroes.

    • Chersti Nieveen / Mar 6 2012 2:13 pm

      I absolutely ADORE Azula as a villain. So glad you brought her up. And thanks for the link! I’ll have to check out that post now 🙂

  7. Kimberly Hawks / Mar 5 2012 8:13 pm

    I totally agree with the Firefly connection…and think that was one of the reasons why it has such a following…people want to believe that even though they aren’t perfect they can still do good things: like the cast of characters in Firefly

  8. Shallee McArthur / Mar 6 2012 9:58 am

    One of my favorite villains actually is Hannibal Lecter. I’ve never even seen the full movie, but the way he’s so smooth and charming, and yet so evil, fascinates me. And even with his crazy sociopathness, he has a goal too– he wants to eat people. *shiver*

    Great methods to develop your villains!

  9. hmcmullin / Mar 6 2012 10:18 am

    As much as I love Alan Rickman as Snape, my favorite is Robin Hood. He was snarky, insecure, funny and creepy and he stole the show from everyone. Another favorite villain is Jason Isaacs – Lucius Malfoy, of course, but his portrayal of William Tavington in The Patriot makes chills run down my spine every time I see it – pure evil. Another favorite, although he’s out of style now, was Vincent Price. He was oily, evil, menacing and just downright slithery at times – and yet in life was a gentle man, a gourmet cook and art expert.

  10. Chersti Nieveen / Mar 6 2012 2:13 pm

    Nikki and Gaylene: After watching some interviews with Alan Rickman on Snape, I AM JUST SO IMPRESSED with his acting. I always thought J.K Rowling told him spoilers, but he said he got the books along with the rest of us. He guessed that Snape had a secret agenda, whatever it was, and that made him very focused. SO focused that he didn’t have close connections or friends, or really any other talents outside of whatever that goal was (he even mentioned that Snape wouldn’t a thing about the kitchen and would just do take away, if such things existed). There’s even one part where he admitted he was so excited about seeing Snape’s house when they were doing the shooting, but he showed up, he was like: Snape wouldn’t have this many pictures on the wall. But when he found out that Snape had inherited the place from his parents, it all made sense. Of course Snape wouldn’t take the time to pull the pictures off the wall. –> Such details there! Wow!!!

  11. Chersti Nieveen / Mar 6 2012 2:19 pm

    Kimberly: Wow, that is such a good point! People want to see that even if they’re doing “bad” things, they are still the good guys.

    Shallee: I am enthralled with Hannibal Lector, even though I haven’t seen the movie. I’d probably be too creeped out to ever sleep again, but I’ve done so much reading on him to try to understand him as a character.

    hmcmullin: Vincent Price is a classic. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE Jason Isaacs and Tim Curry (especially in The Color of Magic and Annie). And I really like Alan Rickman in Quiggly Down Under. He seems to always get the best lines.

  12. Leisha Maw / Mar 9 2012 10:59 am

    Great post! And great comments, too. I’m going to do some serious villain brainstorming today. 🙂

  13. bob@yahoo.com / Oct 3 2012 12:11 am

    Good thing this wasn’t a post on how to count

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