Amazing Villains Have One of these Three Characteristics

What are the best ways to create amazing villains in screenplays and novels?

Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.

Here we feature a video from The Closer LookHow To Make A Great Villain — and discover three ways that writers can create amazing villains in their stories.

1. Don’t Give Your Villain Ultimate Power

“Your villain needs to have more power than the hero, but don’t make the mistake of giving them only traditional power [like a massive army and near limitless power.]”

The video uses The Joker from The Dark Knight as a perfect example.

“[The Joker] has power. Just not in the way we’re accustomed to. His entire power comes from his ability to attack with great intelligence and cunning, straight at the Dark Knight’s greatest weaknesses.”

It’s fine if you want your villain to have traditional power — money, armies, etc. — but there has to be something more beyond that.

Download the screenplay for THE DARK KNIGHT here for free.

2. Motivation

“[Motivation] is the bread and butter of a good villain. If your villain has a very weak or no motivation, then your audience won’t believe that character at all and the conflict will become bland and uninteresting.”

It’s not engaging to watch an evil character do evil things for no apparent reason beyond wanting to be evil.

The more motivation your villain has, the more the audience emphasizes with them. And that is the sign of a great villain — when the audience sees their perspective and can identify with their wants and needs.

“If you want your audience to empathize with the villain, having a solid motivation is the best way to do so.”

The Joker wants the world to burn. He doesn’t desire money or power. He just wants to bear witness to chaos, which makes him arguably the most compelling villain of all time.

3. Let the Villain Win

“When the villain is victorious, even in small, little ways like The Joker did [in The Dark Knight], it adds realistic grit to the story, and that’s what makes the audience even more invested in the hero’s quest as they want him to succeed even more.”

In the end, yes, you want the hero to prevail, but when there’s an underlying feeling that somehow the villain succeeded amidst their defeat, there’s an added level of depth to the story and to their characterization.

At the end of The Dark Knight, The Joker has accomplished his goal of creating chaos. While both he and Batman were competing for the soul of Gotham, yes, Gotham did win in the end when both of the ferries chose not to destroy one another. However, there’s a feeling that The Joker accomplished exactly what he set out to do — create chaos.


Watch the whole video with its full elaboration on these above screenwriting points, accompanied by clips from The Dark Knight!


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