So today we aren’t going to be discussing how to make a villain. I feel like there is an abundance of marvelous posts by other marvelous writers and authors that give lots of advice on how to make a deep, complex villain that will steal the hearts of your readers (or make your readers vow vengeance on the villain, either way mission success). So instead we thought perhaps it would be fun to explore how your villain should interact with the protagonist/hero/MC/recipient of numerous unfortunate events. While we are both writers and authors, we are also both readers. So plenty of the information, observations, and advice that will be given is obviously biased towards our reading preferences.
This is, obviously, not a cookie cutter post that will solve all your problems. You might even not agree with some or all of what this post has to say, so feel free to take it with a grain of salt! I hear most things taste better with salt, anyway…
1. “No! Impossible!”
"Impossible!" "But my plan was perfect!" "How?" This, and such phrases are probably best avoided. Usually when I read this sort of line, I find myself wondering: why would they even feel the need to say it? Also every plan has the possibility of failure, so why would they act so utterly shocked? But instead of trying to address symptoms, I think it would be more productive to tackle the why in this issue. Why do people use these phrases when they write their big confrontation scene?
My theory is that it’s because there is a disconnect between villain and hero. Often times I find that the author tends to lean towards humanizing the villain or the hero, but not an even balance of both (which is a whole other discussion in itself!). The moment we cease to think of the villain as human in some form or fashion (granted if your villain is some other race other than human, such a thing is literally impossible…) is the moment we lose the authenticity in how they speak and present themselves. If you find yourself falling into a “Curse you, Perry the Platypus!” moment, sit back and try and put yourself into the mindset of the villain. I’m a method actor type of writer, so when I’m trying to figure out what a character would say, I put myself in their position and their mindset. What would I say if someone just ruined my meticulous plan? I'm sure plenty of us have had that sort of thing happen (maybe just not an "evil plan" being thwarted). What was your reaction? How did you handle it?
A favorite of writers to pick on, and yet we all fall into this. Again, we’ll dive into the root of the issue as to why these creep in.
Telling vs Showing
Probably the biggest reason is that you are unsure that the clues you have left for your reader about the villain’s motives/reasonings are clear enough, and you feel like you have to spell it out for them. More often than not when I run into a monologue in a book (or even a movie or TV show) the clues were very nicely laid out, and the monologue does nothing but rather dull the big moment of confrontation between hero and villain because I am being told the villain's motives instead of being only shown them. This leads nicely into the second reason...
Distrust of your Readers Detective Skills
Trust your readers to investigate! If you’ve been good about leaving clues, then when you get to that big moment you will only need your villain to say one big heavy hitter line instead of a detailed synopsis. Again, think of your villain as a person or even you. Would you really spell out your “evil plan” for your enemy?
No Way Out
I actually still see this in books, so I do want to address this. Monologues are still used to try and give a hero a way out—or to put the pieces together for them so they can defeat the villain. As a reader, I strongly dislike this as a plot device. If I look back and realize the only reason our hero won is because the villain told them how to defeat them, you lose me. Especially because it leaves me thinking that the villain was rather unintelligent. This leads to a bigger issue, because this can then poison the rest of the book (at least for me). Think of it this way: If the villain is put on this pedestal the entire book and depicted as very dangerous or powerful or intelligent, but then is defeated because they couldn’t keep their mouth shut, how scary were they really? I not only doubt the villain’s intelligence, I also doubt all of the “good guys” who claimed this villain was hard to defeat. I wonder how this has never happened before, or how weak the “good guys” must have been if they hadn’t been able to defeat such a loose lipped villain before. Therefore, I strongly advise against ever using a monologue to get your hero out of a spot. If you can’t find a way out, perhaps reverse engineer and wonder if perhaps other circumstances in the situation should be changed so that your villain’s threat level can remain the same and you can still come out with the conclusion you wanted.
THAT BEING SAID. There is one example I can think of that was actually a clever use of a villain monologue. In Marvel’s The Winter Soldier movie (spoilers, but hey--it's been out for years), they have Zola monologuing to Captain America and Black Widow about what Hydra has been up to. You get all of this vague information about Hydra and while the heroes think they are getting this all for free, it turns out the villain was actually the one stalling! I got a good chuckle out of seeing the villain monologue to his advantage.
3. Ignoring The Hero
This is also something that I have seen a surprising amount of in books. Often it’s that moment when the villain and maybe even the hero thinks the villain’s got it in the bag. And in that moment, the villain--who has up to this point been so intent on killing the hero so they’re out of the way—suddenly just ditches the hero to focus on the coming in of their long awaited victory. In that moment, the hero often has more than enough time to process, reflect on their trials, and have that “but I can do it” moment. As a reader, I again find this (like monologues) very unrealistic. At least if I were the villain, I’d be even more paranoid about the hero defeating me right when I’m so close to my goal, and so the first thing I’d do would be to kill them. Granted there are some instances leaving them alive can work; if you have a really psychotic villain who delights in your hero watching everything crumble around them, it could work. But I would say look back over your villain’s behavior to make sure it lines up with their character. If they’ve been trying to kill the hero throughout the book, then it’s probably not a good idea. I have witnessed this in a book where only a few paragraphs before the villain was intent on sucking the life out of the hero, but then suddenly is completely disinterested even though not much really changed other than needing the hero alive in order to come up with a plan.
Now. I am not saying kill your heroes (*nervous laughter*), but I would suggest trying to avoid putting them in a situation where their survival completely depends on the villain being suddenly disinterested in them (so similar to the monologuing issue).
If I were to boil this down to a single point, it would be to not change how your villain acts simply to fulfill a plot purpose. Often when faced with a roadblock in our plot, we think we either have to bend the hero or the villain to get the result we need, and we don’t want to bend the hero so we go for the villain instead. But remember, both hero and villain are equally as important to the story. And when we begin to bend characters to fit the plot, we risk losing the believability of both.