Can Your Readers Love Your Villain?

By on January 10, 2018
Can Your Readers Love Your Villain? - Writer's

When we think of a villain, we think of a character that we should dislike, that gets in the way of the protagonist (who we love) and potentially harms or destroys their chances of reaching their goal.

However villainous characters can be the most effective, dramatic and fun to write, and there is no reason why readers can’t adore your baddies just as much as they do your heroes.

However grotesque and abhorrent your villain is, we must still connect to them and want to read more about them on some level, even if they do make our skin crawl. Your villain should, at the very least, be someone we love to hate, at best someone we have a complex relationship with and are utterly fascinated by.

So what can you do to make your readers love your villain? Here are some things to try

Give them layers and history.

A villain with a surprising backstory makes for exciting reading. Your reader will want to try to get inside the villains head and to understand why they act the way that they do. Make your villain a complex and layered character. They could be a terrifying serial killer but one that completely adores animals and would never hurt them. They could be viciously angry but are so because of the way they have been treated in the past. You don’t have to make us sympathise with your villains but giving them multiple layers will make them more complex and interesting to read.

Avoid cliches

When writing a villainous character, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of making them very cliched. Try to be unique and brave when writing your villain. Their motivations might stem from similar storylines as ones we have heard before - the jealous lover, the power-hungry co-worker, the evil stepmother, but make sure that your villain has traits that are unique to them and this will keep your reader interested.

Give them characteristics we secretly would like to have

Whether it’s a total lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, the ability to say it like it is, having no fear, being frivolous or having a superpower, giving your villain characteristics and personality traits that your readers covet and admire is another excellent way to get them to warm to your villain and want to know more about them.

Give them reasons and motivations

Just as your protagonist needs a reason for wanting what they want and setting out on a journey to get it, your villain must have reasons for wanting to stop them. Make sure you don’t just make a character terrible for the sake of it. Ensuring that your readers understand their reasons will endear them to your villain even more.

Make them totally insane

On the other hand, you could make your villain entirely insane! There is something rather wonderful and freeing about writing a character who has just lost the plot. Some of the very best villains are written this way and are utterly fascinating and readable because of it. Their unpredictability, their irrationality, their lack of care for others or what’s going on in the world around them makes them so fascinating to most people who live their lives playing by the rules.

So, can your readers love your villain? Of course, they can! In fact, writing a villain with whom your readers have a complex relationship will make them even more beguiling and ensure your book leaves a lasting impression. So if you want to write a villainous character that makes an impact, follow the tips above and write one that your readers will love!

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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