Strengthen Your Villain

Your villain can be strengthened in several ways. Wait. Do you HAVE a villain, don’t you?

Do you need a villain?

One question I often hear is, “Do I really need an antagonist/villain” Usually, these writers have the main character struggling against something like a storm, or an evil empire, or something more abstract. In these cases, no, you don’t have to have a villain; but if you can embody the evil from that abstract opposition in a character, you’ll have a stronger story.

Create a single storm or give the reader a military general to hate (think Darth Vader). Your story will be stronger with a strong antagonist, because it will focus the main character’s efforts. Let’s assume you have a good villain and in the next revision you want to strengthen your villain. In general, you’ll want to look at what you’ve already done and push it to a more intense level. Because villains are a different sort of character, there are some cliches that work when creating them. But be sure to work against these cliches and make your villain fresh and interesting.

1. UGLY Their ugliness outside mirrors their evil inner nature.

  • dirty–hands, clothes
  • eyes–pale, blue, cadaverous, sinister, stone cold, blazing, uncanny, narrow, oblique, filminess, sharp, strange, awful, flaming with passion, keen, piercing, dark, bold, brilliant, black
  • rank breath
  • voice–sharp, cruel, think, harsh, often breaks into falsetto
  • deformed in some way–hunchback, missing leg (Long John Silver), scars
  • fleshy or fat from over-indulgence of fleshly lusts
  • hands–short stocky fingers, fat/fleshy, large, white, ruthless, sharp nails, hair on palms
  • facial hair–queer whiskers, cruel mustache
  • bony
  • skin–sallow, sunburned almost black
  • physically strong–strong, but not intelligent
  • laugh–hyena-like, laughs at odd times

Their outside contrasts with inner evil nature

  • movements–graceful, catlike
  • intelligent–a worthy foe
  • sexy
  • hero-like, often tries to imitate a hero, a king, a warrior of old, etc.
  • voice–melodious, husky, sexy
  • hair–thick, beautiful, long
  • clothes & accessories–splendidly horsed, impeccable taste in clothes,dashing appearance


These are some character qualities to consider as you define your villain.

  • All villains must enjoy their villainy.
  • Cruel.
  • established by reputation of past crimes/past corpses
  • puts others in position to fail, then punishes when they do fail
  • revenge
  • no mercy
  • Treacherous–no loyalty. Insinuates into positions of trust, then betrays.
  • Cunning, sly, conniving
  • Bully–physical and mental abuse
  • Childhood–unstable, frustrated, unhappy, reform school
  • Charisma–mesmerizes the weak (often female)
  • Ruthless–gets own way regardless of what it takes
  • Frustrated ambitions
  • Shrewd business-like sense
  • Foul language


  • Often foreigners or different ethnic group. (Not politically correct these days, of course, but still often done.)
  • Often wears black. (Another politically-incorrect notion, but color can be useful in designating groups. Could also use some other visual tag, for example, gang signs, tattoos, etc..)
  • Tools/House–Often these are sinister. In other words, make the setting echo their villainy.
  • How is this character larger-than-life? What does s/he do, say, think that would totally shock even themselves?


Deepen your character’s motivations and emotions by considering these.

  • Give the villain an inner conflict. What do they most want? What’s the opposite of that? How could the character want both at the same time?
  • Raise the stakes. Even villains can have the stakes raised! What could happen that would make the villain’s goal matter even more?
  • Have you plotted the villain?s character arc? Usually, the villain’s character arc ends in tragedy (s/he is defeated!). Do you show-don’t-tell your villain?s emotions at the climax?

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