Sugar and Spice (Believable Villains)

Sugar and Spice (Believable Villains)

A Lesson by Kitalia Emme

To create a villain that gets under your skin and fills your readers with a genuine discomfort, even fear you need to spice them up a bit, but don't forget, every good dish needs balance...


Lurking in the darkness of every shadow is a devilish villain out to take over the world and wreak havoc. Ugly and spiteful, filled with hate and disdain. The monster that deserves out hate, the one with no heart, no soul. Who never steps into the light.
The Villain we all love to hate...

Except that I always rooted for the villain. I did. Even as a tiny girl in pigtails and petty-coats watching Jungle Book and Peter Pan. Why? Why did I always want to see the bad guy catch a break? 
Because I believed, in my heart of hearts that he needed a hug.

Now I know that is an unusual way to start a tutorial, but hey. I have a point. I promise. To create a story that people can truly connect with, you can't create a black and white world. Why? Because nothing in our world is that simple. Even in our children's stories there is a little bit of grey. Was the Big Bad Wolf really evil for wanting to feast on the three little pigs? Or was he desperately hungry? So maybe in Little Red Riding Hood he takes things a bit to far, what a better way to warn of 'stranger danger' then a simple and morally clear tale of poor grandma becoming lunch.

When you are creating a villain you want one that not only invokes disdain or even hate from your hero and readers, but also fear. As much as we loathed Scar (Lion King) he also filled us with dread, long past our kinder years and into adulthood. That sinking feeling when we heard his voice. This was because in our hearts we knew he was possible. There was a way for him to exist. We knew deep down, that despite his animal appearance, he was Human. That's right. Every villain you ever feared had a certain amount of humanity in them, and that is why we were frightened. 
Lady and the Tramp? We were not scared, we were amused and annoyed. But we never invoked hate or fear. 
Little Mermaid? Ursula was terrifying! 
So why is this? It is because we know, from the time we first start to understand people, that everyone is human.

As an example there is a picture of Adolf Hitler walking with a little girl. This is deemed one of the most terrifying images on the planet, and there is some scary stuff out there. So why is such a peaceful photograph so horrific when you can find thousands of images of dismembered and mangled corpses from the same year?

Because that Image made our monster human. Seeing that reminds you that He was just like you in some way. That that darkness may live in your own heart, and in the hearts of everyone around you. 

To make the perfect villain you must humanize him. And you must create a flaw within your hero. Not Kryptonte, but a human flaw. your hero has to be blind to that human element of the villain, whether they are blind because they are so caught up on (whatever the villain did) or blind because they Just don't care about that human element. Either way, that is a flaw. That small act of facing off against the villain dehumanizes your hero. Even if it is just to run away and tell others what a horrible person the villain is, or to simply foster a deep hatred. There must be something, or the villain is not a villain, but a morally challenged nascence.

So here is the recipe for a villain:

1)  First you need a dash of kindness. For a villain to seem truly evil you have to counter it. Perhaps he slaughtered an entire town, but when he came across a child he felt imminence guilt and spared her, putting her out of harms way. It is his inability to hurt her, and his risking her blaming his, tracking him, and killing him, that makes him human. So he is mildly guilty of mass murder and attempted genocide... He really cares about kids, man!

2)  Back story. Even if you never reveal it to your readers you have to have a back story. Why create a back story if you don't want the readers to see it? Because it is our history that shapes us. By creating a back story you will get to know your villain on a personal level, and that will allow you to better determine how he acts, and reacts to the things that happen around him. Maybe she is a murderous thief who lures men into her room to kill them and take their money, and your dashing young detective is going to be her next victim!
Why? Why kill them? There are better ways to rob someone, ways that are a lot less messy. Was she abused and is taking out her revenge over and over in a hope that someday she will be free from the pain? Is it an addiction? If so how did she get her first taste? Did she have a fight with her late husband and stab him, resulting in his death?
These will all have a bearing on how she acts around your hero before he catches on and escapes in the nick of time.

3) Maybe you don't want a single villain, you want to go all Tolken on this fiction and it's an entire faction. This is where it gets really fun!
There are two sides to every coin... I know, what does money have to do with good Vs. Evil. Well, because each side thinks that the other is evil! Each side believes that they are the force of good. Granted that doesn't mean that they are good (Look at Harry Potter... That was some pretty dark stuff) But they had a reason, and aside from a few who suffered total delusional madness, they believed that they were going to create a better world. Let me repeat: They truly believed they were creating a better world.

4) Add a little of yourself. There has to have been someone in your life you wanted to kick in the face. Let that out in the safety of your story. That annoying kid that just can't stop drumming his fingers and you want to rip his hand off, well, take that thing that bothers you so much and give it to the villain. Maybe the villain licks his teeth when he is nervous or excited, making your skin crawl. Or maybe your hero has a habit of asking the same question twice, and the villain gets fed up and decks her. This goes mach to making them human.

Now go and create a villain that is so depraved he eats kittens with ketchup and wipes his feet of Grandma's white sofa, but he can never resist the delicate spun sweetness of cotton candy and never forgets to say please and thank you.


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Added on October 24, 2014
Last Updated on October 24, 2014

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Kitalia Emme
Kitalia Emme


***Sorry for my absence. I lost a husband, fought addiction, and came out stronger that ever. I have been sober for 10 months. I am pulling my life together and healing from my loss (No, I wasn't wi..