Knowing Your Villain and His Plans


Not long ago I read a blog post that suggested that it is better to have a shallow villain than one that readers can connect with. Something about that struck me as being totally wrong. To me, the villain is the most important character in a book. If this is true, then should you know as much about your villain as you do about your main character? Isn’t it better to know why your villain is carrying out his evil plan rather than just have him do it for the sake of the plot?

The villain is the most important character for one very simple reason; without the villain, there is no story. Without someone causing a problem, there is nothing for the main character to fight against, no reason to leave their ordinary lives. And with nothing for the hero to fight against, there is no story. Who wants to read a story about life with no problems? The villain is so important to the plot that without him, there would be no book.

Knowing about the villain is very important to me in editing. If I don’t know much about my villain, his past and his plans, then the plot doesn’t work. I’m working on editing one of my fantasy novels at the moment, and for a long time I was stuck on how to fix it, because I realised that I didn’t know anything about my villain. It didn’t make sense to have him doing things just because he’s evil. What I found I needed to know was, what does he get out of this plot that makes him want to do it in the first place, and why does he think this is a good idea? I’ve found from my experience that when I know more about my villain, then not only do I have a more rounded character who feels like a person, but a whole host of other plot problems fix themselves round that one issue. In fantasy, which is what I write mostly, the plot generally hinges on stopping the evil plan of the villain. By working out what the villain is planning, I can understand what the other characters would be doing, which helps me makes sense of events.

I don’t believe that villains should be shallow, because they are such important people in books. Some villains have tough backgrounds. Some of them have lost loved ones and have turned to evil to get revenge or justice. Some have had their hopes and dreams crushed. These are all parts of what makes this villain a person, and are part of what has lead up to the problems of the book. If the villain is so important to the story, he deserves to be as much of a character as anyone else in the book. Of course, you generally want people to like your main character over your villain, but the villain needs to be understood too.

Problems with the villain are one of the most important things I fix in the first round of edits, and fixing that makes it much easier to fix most of the other plot problems as well. If you’re having trouble making your plot work, why not take a look at the villain and see how well developed he and his plot are? It’s easy to forget to flesh him out as much as the main character because he’s not the point of view character, but he can not only be a good character, but is integral to the success of the story. And someone that important deserves to be noticed every once in a while.

Do you think that villains need to be as fleshed out as the other characters, or do you think it’s ok for them to be shallow? Do you agree that they’re the most important person in a book? Who’s your favourite villain?

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  1. Hi Imogen,

    I have to agree that villains need to be 'fleshed out'. I find that books where you understand and know more about the villain are so much more intriguing and interesting than books with 'shadow villains'. It does make them seem so much more realistic.

    My favourite villain is probably still Loki from the Thor and The Avengers movies.

    1. Hi Helena! Thanks for stopping to comment. I was very excited to wake up this morning and find your comment. I have to confess, sometimes villains are my favourite characters to write. Not because they're good people, but because they're such complicated people, and so many things have gone into making them what they are. It's fun to puzzle out what would have turned a person to doing bad stuff. Gosh, that sounds almost like psychology!

      Oh yes, Loki is one of the best villains I've seen in a long time. He's so likable and conflicted. Even when he's doing bad things he's still so fun. Plus he has some awesomely witty lines that are perfect for quoting.

  2. I love villains. More story in them the better!
    Favourite villain, hmm... I think it would be Luke from the Percy Jackson books (if you can call him the villain).

    1. Ooh, Luke makes an excellent villain. His backstory makes him such an effective bad guy. I loved finding out more about him. Thanks for commenting.

  3. I completly agree with you!
    Villains are extremly important. Without a villain there are very few stories that could be told (romance novels might be an exception but they have antagonists as well... so ...)
    I think some stories might also work with a shallow villain but they are generally more interesting if they feel real and have a proper motivation... Maybe it depends on the type of story you want to write... if you want a very classical black and white hero story a shallow villain might even work better because someone with a motivation is human and is less likely percieved as absolutly easy. If the story is supposed to play with the ideas of good and bad or with shades of good and bad then you need a fleshed out villain....

    I don't even know if I really have a favorite villain. Right at this moment it is probably Magneto from the X-men series...

    1. That's actually a really good point, about some villains being more shallow because it's a black and white sort of story. I wonder if some fairy tale retellings would fit into that sort of category. That's definitely food for thought. I also wonder if it's a matter of personal preference, where some people might prefer to know less about the villain. I like my villains complex and human, but other people might not.
      Magneto is a great villain. I love how he thinks he's doing the right thing for mutants, even when he's not. He's actually a direct inspiration for one of my own villains.

    2. (I was not home so I did not read anything or check anything in the past 5 days so I just saw it...)
      I think with fairy tale retellings the intention of the retelling would once again matter... if they just want to retell the same old story just making it a little bit more moden they would certainly fit the black and white type... if they want to show other stuff and talk about the villain more they will probably flesh the villain out too...

      You are certainly right... in the end it is a matter of personal preference I also like my villains more complex, more human but I can see how other people might prefer them more shallow...

      I am glad that you also like Magneto. I think he is not even doing the completly wrong thing... he is just too extreme and takes things a step to far....

  4. THIS IS SUCH AN OLD POST but I'm desperate to figure out my NaNo novel villain's motivation, and reading this gave me a great idea! Thank you so much for writing this!!


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