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Writing ‘Wicked’ Villains, by Belinda Dorio (guest post)

Have you tried to write a villainous character before, only for them to become stereotypically creepy, gaunt looking and slightly pathological? Never fear! Many of us have been there before.

In my opinion, a villain should never ever be pure ‘evil’, and good books will blur the lines between the typical ‘good’ and ‘evil’ –ness of its characters. Is your character evil or mean – just ‘because’? Then you’ve got a case of a very un-relatable and usually unbelievable villainous character. Movies will often fall prey to this – especially ones adapted from comics – however, some overcome it and manage to pull off a great villain.

Think ‘Two-Face’ from the film The Dark Knight; For majority of the movie the character is Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), a gentle natured attorney who takes a villainous turn after becoming disfigured on one half of his face. It could be said, that in an attempt to deal with his disfiguration Dent becomes ‘Two-Face’, a man who relies on the toss of a coin to decide his and his victims fates. It explores dual-personalities which is further emphasised by the two sides of his face- one damaged, one un-damaged. For the viewer, his actions are a lot more powerful because we knew what the man was like ‘pre-villain’. The audience is able to sympathise with the character regardless of his villainous behaviour because they understand his motives and consequent actions.

Cassandra Clare is an author who I believe is great at developing her villains. In ‘Clockwork Angel’ and ‘Clockwork Prince’ her characters come up against a villain who has a ‘right’ to his actions. The reader can sympathise with him and understand his hatred of the Shadow Hunters.This adds a depth to his character that enriches the whole book. The struggle between the Magister and the Shadow Hunters takes on new meaning, and the reader can relate to the book and the ‘world’ they are reading a lot better. Clare also turns a character from the first book into a ‘traitor’ in the second. However, as a reader – I could never bring myself to dislike the character for her actions, because her motives were clearly explained and explicit. Many villains are, or have once been victims themselves.

In the integrated short story collection, Possessing Freedom (March 2012), I explored this concept through the narration of our spectral villain, Faye. Although she has sociopathic tendencies and a seemingly keen disregard or respect for human life, the reader is encouraged to understand Faye, to see from her perspective, to empathise.

In a bid to live again, the ghost Faye harms many people as she tries to perfect the act of possession.

Here is a small snippet from the last ‘chapter’ or story of the book:

I straighten, feeling more like myself. “I did what I had to do”.

Jared finally speaks up, “You sound just like Philip- deranged” if I didn’t know better I’d say that his voice sounds almost sympathetic.

Anger spurts to life inside me. “You think I’m insane? I’ll tell you what’s insane; death. What kind of a world do we live in if so many young people can die and be reduced to nothing more than whispers in the wind?”

I clench my fists as my determination hardens.

“Death is insanity, my desire to live is the sanest wish I’ve ever had”

My advice is to love your villains as much as you love your heroic characters, regardless if one is going to kill or harm the other. I believe it makes for a deeper connection with your readers and a more ‘fleshed out’ and well-rounded character.

For further reading, check out this article by Ruth D. Kerce on ‘Writing the Effective Villain’


Belinda Dorio author website:

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