Episode 33: Make Mine Evil

On March 9, Kasie and Rex waxed poetic about villains. Here are the show notes:


Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer

Rex Hurst, Horror Writer

Theme for the day



  • What makes a good villain?
  • Motivation
  • Upcoming opportunities and events for poets
silhouette of man
Photo by Sebastiaan Stam on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast.

Segment 1

What makes a good villain? Your 15-item checklist:

  • He’s convinced he’s the good guy
  • He has many likeable qualities
  • He’s a worthy enough opponent to make your hero look good
  • You (and your reader) like when he’s on stage
  • He’s clever and accomplished enough that people must lend him begrudging respect
  • He can’t be a fool or a bumbler
  • He has many of the same characteristics of the hero, but they’re misdirected
  • He should occasionally be kind, and not just for show
  • He can be merciless, even to the innocent
  • He’s persuasive
  • He’ll stop at nothing to get what he wants
  • He’s proud
  • He’s deceitful
  • He’s jealous, especially of the hero
  • He’s vengeful

Setting aside that all of these say “he”, let’s talk about a villain’s expected characteristics.

Segment 2

Motivation — what makes the villain do what he or she does?

This blog has 8 motivationsyou can use:

  • Take them from pole to pole — show how they evolve into desperation, or freedom whichever position gives them the power to be evil
  • The wound — a physical deformity or breaking that makes the character less, or provides a physical struggle s/he must overcome
  • They don’t believe what they’re doing is bad — religious zealots come to mind
  • The “Lucifer effect”:
    • The first is dispositional, or the inside of individuals, “the bad apples.”
    • The second is situational forces to which individuals are subjected, “the bad barrel.”
    • The third are the political, economic, and legal powers that promote these situations, “the bad barrel makers.”
  • Evildoers are not 100% evil — that’s boring; they should be more complex. They’re making choices on one path, their path, and those choices cause strife and trauma for the hero.
  • Some do it for the buzz — is causes a physical high to do something bad and they’re addicted to the high; think Joffrey from Game of Thrones

From that blog: In the book Characters, Emotions & Viewpoint, author Nancy Kress writes: “When writing villains, authors need to know the whys. Real human beings, villains included, have reasons for what they do. Villains can’t be evil for evil’s sake. They need reasons. They need a motive. Doing so makes your villain more believable (87).”

Segment 3

So how do you do it? Here are 6 ways:

  • Remember antagonists are people, too; don’t let them be a mere device to move the plot along.
  • Try not to settle for a totally evil one.
  • If you’re tempted to say your antagonist is a corporation, a disease, or war, don’t. Put a human face on it.
  • Make the villain at least as smart, strong, and capable as the protagonist.
  • If the antagonist stays hidden for much of the story, give him proxies.

And this blog gives you ways to get into the mind of a psychopath:

  • Where to find them? Interview prisoners.
  • Make them lovable.
  • Avoid stereotypes.
  • Develop a good backstory.
  • Get input from a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist


Here’s the NY Book Editors’ blog about writing a good villain. Tips: have motivations the reader can understand and make the villain vulnerable and tragic.

6 more tips:

1: Make a villain three-dimensional

2: Give your villain’s wrongdoing history

3: Show how your villain wasn’t always the bad guy

4: Avoid stereotypical villain dialogues

5: How to create a villain: Use vivid description

6: Create multiple opponents and accomplices for variety

9 Villain Archetypes and some general observations from The Write Practice blog:

  • Villains are not necessarily evil. Instead, they are opposite.
  • There can sometimes be more than one villain per story.
  • However, there is always only one internal villain (Dostoevsky broke the rules by having two), whether it is fear, lust for power, or control.
  • This internal villain is projected onto a character or multiple characters.
  • Thus, the villain is a shadow form of the character, and often the way to defeat the villain is by making peace with it.

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