The Making of a Solid Bad Guy

Last week I mentioned one of my favorite villians, Heinz Doofenshmirtz. He claims to pure evil, but if you follow the show, that’s not really the case. His parents forced him to be a lawn gnome for much of his childhood and favored his older brother, Roger. He wants recognition and revenge. But he also loves his daughter and has fits of conscience, albeit warped. Personally, I think this makes for a more interesting bad guy than the pure evil one. 

Some bad guys want to see the world burn. Some are downright selfish. But my favorite stories usually have a bad guy that’s more sympathetic. For example, the Prince Charming of Shrek 3. Yes, he’s selfish. Yes, he’s arrogant. But in Shrek 3, there’s more to him than that. He’s trying to avenge his mother and succeed where she failed. He’s tired of the good guys being the only one’s who get a happily-ever-after. And he uses that sob story to get all the other bad guys onto his side.

But we are villains!

Usually when we create our protagonists, we’re told to ask the question “why”. What are their core values? What motivates them? What are their goals? Why do they feel the way they do about these things? Once I’ve answered those questions, I can write a compelling story by putting road blocks to those goals.

But we can’t forget to do the same with our bad guys. When I was writing the second draft of Soul Yearning, I came across a section where the scenes with a bad guy came off flat. Something was missing.

When I did the rewrite, I decided to do those scenes from the viewpoint of the bad guy instead of the good guy in order to flesh out why he’s so bad. The positive response was unanimous from my crit partners. The character drew them in and made them want to read more. I ended up doing a bunch of rewrites of scenes with my bad guys, and now I’m much happier with the conflict in my story.

Whenever I think of villains, I’m reminded of the ending of Shrek 3 where Arthur asks them if they always wanted to be bad. One of them replies, “But we are villains!”  That works for some. But in my humble opinion, the best stories occur when the bad guy wants their happily-ever-after just as much as the good guy.

So, what about you? Do you prefer Dark Lords? Or do you like your villains to have more sympathetic values?

About Will Ramirez

Will Ramirez grew up with a love for God's Word and fantastical worlds. The first passion led him to pastor Calvary Chapel Lighthouse for the the last 17 years. The second led him to create the world of Adme, the setting for his coming debut novel, an epic fantasy titled Soul Yearning. He lives in Central Florida with his bride of seventeen years and their four children. Since 2010, he's been a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and serves on the leadership team of Word Weavers of Orlando. He is currently working on the second book of the Godslayer series as well as The Unspoken, book one of a dark fantasy trilogy. In the land of Adme, powerful beings rule as deities and compete with one another for followers. But when a young priest is revealed as the prophesied godslayer, the pantheon unites to destroy him.

6 comments on “The Making of a Solid Bad Guy

  1. The first time I attended the ACFW conference, I got to hear Donald Maas at the Early Bird session. He emphasized that every villain is not pure evil and they each should have a plight of some sort. This makes them more realistic and turns them into villains we love to hate. 🙂

    • Hey Ralene 🙂 I think that’s why it’s important to ask the same questions to our villains as we ask our protags. Even if the answers to those questions never see the light of day for our stories, the villain is more believable.

  2. Even Sauron in the Lord of the Rings did not start out as pure evil. He started out with at least the appearance of good–although it becomes clear when reading through the account of his doings in Numenor that he is, beneath the surface, a very evil and deceitful person.

    • Awesome point Krysti. Sauron’s history is vast, beyond the scope of Lord of the Rings. His desire for order and for things to be just the way he wanted corrupted him so that he joined Melkor. Who knew being OCD could turn a person into a Dark Lord?

  3. Hi Will, There are several really good bad guys that make the hero great. You have Darth Vader whom we’ve come to understand somewhat more with episodes 1,2, and 3. There is the sheriff of Nottingham who is always the bad guy in all the Robin Hood tales. Sometimes the sheriff is fleshed out a bit more and you almost could see some good peeking out and then he makes a choice to choose wrong over right. To choose himself over others. I think we always hope the bad guy whom we’ve come to know will make a good choice and become a hero as well, but can you have two hero’s in a tale? I wonder if we think somewhere deep down we are really bad guys and we hope to be hero’s by making the right choice. Technically we are since we are all sinful by nature, but when we accept God’s gift then we have the ability and strength in Christ to choose good over sin.

    • Hey Danielle 🙂 The hero’s journey is probably the most common story told. I personally like a good redemption story, where the bad guy becomes the hero. I think you hit it on the head with us wanting to be the hero even though we’re acqainted with all our failures. I guess technially Return of the Jedi has two hero’s since Darth Vader destroyed the Emperor, right?

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