Fiction Writing Exercises: How to Write a Complex Villain
When it comes to writing fiction, we each have our own unique challenges. For some of us, it’s a struggle to come up with names for our characters. For others, it’s hard to write realistic dialogue.
Maybe you’re like me, and find it difficult to write a really good villain–I mean–a really bad villain. Or even just a pretty bad nemesis.
The funny thing about our writing weaknesses is that sometimes all we have to do is identify them and suddenly we start coming up with tons of solutions.
That’s what happened to me a few years ago when I realized that I was having trouble writing a nemesis for my main character. Time and time again, it was one of the key elements that was missing from the stories I wrote.
Once I noticed this pattern, I started seeing villains all around me–as if merely noticing their absence from my writing made them suddenly appear everywhere in my everyday life.
Villains Are Everywhere
A friend would forget to call me back and become a self-absorbed boss who neglected and overworked their employees. Someone would leave the milk out and become a freeloading couch-surfer taking advantage of friends and acquaintances.
I would notice someone’s flaws and think about what they’d be like if those flaws were embellished and magnified to outweigh the person’s good qualities and positive traits. Suddenly, my villains were born, one after another, like a little herd of evil trolls.
I make up characters in my head all the time. Sometimes I write down my ideas, drafting character sketches. Most of them never make it to a story, but the really compelling ones do. Now that I’ve found a surefire way to harvest villains from the world around me, the character sketches have really started to pile up.
Fiction Writing Exercises for Creating Villains
If you want to write good fiction, you need a character who creates tension and who is at odds with the forces of good. Even for poets and nonfiction writers, the ability to write a complex villain will only improve your writing and help you better understand the subjects you write about (especially if some of them are dirty rotten scoundrels).
For this week’s fiction writing exercises, pay attention to the people around you. Nobody’s perfect. Even those you love most dearly have shortcomings that you can compound to the point of villainy. Take their flaws, quirks, and moments of moral lapses and exaggerate them into a character fraught with nasty traits.
- Choose a model for your villain: an ordinary person, a celebrity, or a notorious criminal from the news; examine that person’s flaws and weaknesses. How have they wronged others? Discard their positive traits, magnify their negative traits, and write a brief character sketch. What’s the character’s name? What does he or she look like? What is going on in the character’s head that allows him or her to treat others with disregard?
- Give your villain a shady past: what terrible things has your villain done throughout his or her life? Some villains are just trouble makers; others are deranged psychopaths. How extreme is your villain?
- Identify the source: what happened to your villain to turn him or her so evil? Was your villain born that way?
- Flawed villains do good sometimes: the most interesting villains are not completely evil. They have a soft spot for puppies or they write cheesy love poems. Contrary personality traits add depth and realism to all characters. Describe your villain’s positive traits.
- Put your villain in a scene: make sure you include dialogue so you can work out how the character speaks. Give your villain a distinct voice. Is your villain disguised as a good guy? Does he or she spend every waking minute committing evil deeds?
Most importantly, have fun! That’s what fiction writing exercises are all about. Villains are the characters we love to hate because they are the harbingers of obstacles and challenges through which the heroes of our stories prove themselves. Whether you write totalitarian bad guys like Lord Voldemort of Harry Potter fame or more subtle, complex nemeses like Catwoman from the Batman comics, give your villains plenty of color, character, and complications.
If you have any fiction writing exercises to share, feel free to post them in the comments or send them in as a guest post.
Are you looking for more fiction writing exercises? Pick up a copy of 101 Creative Writing Exercises, available in paperback and ebook.