The Foreboding Villain: Memorable Bad Guys and Why They're So Great

I've been thinking about bad guys lately.

To those who know me, this is not a surprise. I am known throughout my circle of friends as the "girl who loves bad guys." Not because I literally like bad guys, but I do really love bad guys. There is a difference. Trust me.

I love helping people with their writing. Some of the little kids I've helped throughout the years at different homeschool groups or churches would come to me and ask me to read their stories for them. One thing I noticed, and continue to notice, amongst beginning writers, is the lack of a good villain.

Why does this matter? Well, think of it this way- what are your favorite books that had good guy/bad guy plots? What stood out to you about those books? If you say it's because of the main character- the good guy- that's good. But do you know what usually makes the good guy so good?
The bad guy has to be pretty bad.

So today I'm going to give you an overrun of what makes a villain awesome, frightening, cool, and memorable- and how this is going to make your main character even better. This is going to be a couple parts long.

Memorable bad guys and why they're so great.

There are some classic villains out there that we all remember. Let's go over some of the ones I think most of you are familiar with.

The White Witch (Chronicles of Narnia)
Motive: Domination over Narnia
Why: She represents the devil and moves the plot along as the representation of evil
In her way: Aslan, who represents Jesus
Endearing Characteristic(s): None

Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Motive: Domination over Neverland, wants to be rid of Peter Pan
Why: Peter cut off his hand in a fight, Hook wants revenge
In his way: Peter, the main character, who just likes to cause trouble
Endearing Characteristic(s): Hook relies on Smee to help him in a lot of situations, and though he treats him bad a lot, he does seem to count on his friend and is loyal to their friendship.

Walter Donovan (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
Motive: He wants eternal life and wealth, which he aims to get by obtaining the Holy Grail
Why: Who doesn't? Donovan represents everyone who wants more than what he has
In his way: Indiana Jones, who is determined to get the Holy Grail before Donovan and the Nazis do
Endearing Characteristic(s): He's very honest. He told Indy in the beginning not to "trust anyone", which later goes on to include himself. He never lies throughout the story, and is a very gentlemanly character.

Mor'du (Brave)
Motive: Wants to kill everything
Why: Mor'du was once a prince before he determined to defeat his brothers and got turned into a bear. Now he has the mind of a wild, blood thirsty beast. His story is somewhat tragic, actually.
In his way: Everyone. He will kill anyone, anything.
Endearing Characteristic(s): He's a bear, so... he's not profiling one specific character.

Nicolae Carpathia (Left Behind)
Motive: Wants to take over the world
Why: Uhm, he represents the Antichrist
In his way: The Christians, so Nicolae devises a sneaky scheme to get everyone to turn against them
Endearing Characteristics(s): Even though he is the devil and he is terrifyingly evil, Nicolae is somewhat sarcastic in a humorous way, lightening up the story a bit.

Scar (The Lion King)
Motive: Wants to rule the Pride Lands, wants to be king
Why: He wants to be in charge and the alpha lion, and resents his older brother passionately
In his way: His brother, Mufasa, and Simba, his nephew. Mufasa is the king and Simba the heir to the throne.
Endearing Characteristic(s): Scar is sarcastic, funny, cunning and very smart. He's somewhat hilarious, actually.

Some of these characteristics may seem a bit odd. Why would someone who is sarcastic, or someone who relies on his friend to help him, make a character "endearing"? Well, what does endearing mean?

Endearing: inspiring love or affection.

Doesn't make much sense, right? Well, think of it this way:

Endearing= memorable.

In other words, an endearing trait is something that will help us remember the character after the story is done. All bad guys and good guys alike need their own trade marks. What makes them tick, what makes them laugh, what makes them frustrated, what scares them, etc. Basically, what makes us remember them forever. An endearing trait is often something that we remember about a character, something we relate to.

I also want to point out a pattern in these villains- what is the one thing you notice that they all have in common?

In one way or another, each of these characters seeks a form of power. For Donovan, it's wealth and eternal life. For the White Witch, it's power over Narnia. For Mor'du, he wants to conquer every living thing and kill it. Power is one of the strongest motivators for every villain. But it often gets wayyy too overused.

These are all classic characters in movies, literature and TV shows. I picked them to make a point- they're all different but are after the same thing. Each one has his own unique personality. You can take the age old tale of "power, money, revenge and love" and you can change it up, getting a different character each time.

 Different character + different choices + different situations = different outcomes.

Characters really drive a story. Nicolae might find a way to manipulate everyone into believing the Christians are evil and trying to take over the world, whereas Captain Hook prefers to just chase Peter Pan endlessly all over Neverland for no apparent reason other than revenge. Because of their characteristics, the situation changes. They're still after the same thing- power- but their characters are so polar opposite that they go by it in entirely different ways.

But how do you create a character and use these elements in a way that doesn't make your villain stereotypical? Come back for the next part to find out...
Whenever I write it. :P


  1. Hey, that was really thought provoking!
    I've got a bad guy(s) in my Time Travelers story, but she/he aren't (isn't) developed very well...I guess I'll have to work on them... ;)
    Thanks for the new point of view on bad guys! :)
    I like bad guys too (mostly), but I like the bad guys' sidekicks quite a bit also... (Like Mr. Smee. ;)
    Well, I'd better git...
    Have a nice night! :)

    1. YAY! Someone who thinks like me. :) I really enjoy bad guy sidekicks. Why? Because they're usually undeveloped in a writer's book, so I can imagine all kinds of things about that character. In reality, I probably develop the sidekick more than I do the actual bad guy, which I need to work on... I love sidekicks. :)
      Glad you enjoyed this post! I have another one planned, and I'll get to it soon. :)

  2. There was one bad guy up there who I actually liked quite a bit. (In the movie, mind you. NOT in real life!) Probably because of his traits that you spoke of. They did make him memorable!
    Thank you for doing the post. It really makes you think about your bad guys and how exactly your writing them. You write bad guys really well, so I'm anxiously awaiting the next part! :D

    1. I know who you're talking about! *Takes a deep breath, about to scream it out to the world* JESSECA LIKES-
      Vlasenko: Excuse her rudeness, miss Jesseca. Your secret will not be revealed.
      (Well, as long as I'm unconscious, I'll mention that there will be another post and I think you're going to enjoy it. :) Glad you enjoyed the post!)

    2. Haha! Thank you, Vlasenko, I really appreciate it :) Although please make sure she isn't hurt to bad!
      Don't be unconscious for long, Emily. . .we want the next post! :D

    3. Owww... I'm not hurt too bad... but I have a headache. Thanks, Vlasenko. *Glares* I did NOT appreciate that. Wait, why are YOU helping Jesseca?
      Vlasenko: She needed aid.
      You're the BAD GUY though! Grr...

    4. Bad guys can choose to be good every once in a great while. . .right? B-)

    5. I suppose... my bad guys and good guys all seem to like you quite well. It must be because you're so sweet.

  3. Great post! I definitely need to think on this. I loooooooooove Scar! Scar is one of my favorite classic Disney villains....after Gaston from Beauty and the Beast :-)

    1. I know! Scar is amazing. :) I didn't like the fact he was a coward, but that made him all the more evil, didn't it? :) Gaston is pretty cool, too, though. I'm not sure why I didn't use him. I don't know why. I'll remember that if I ever do this in a future post!
      Thanks for commenting!

  4. I can't believe you didn't include Darth Vadet or the Emperor or Jabba the Hut! Haha, well, this was a good post! You picked good examples!

    1. Grr...spellcheck messed me up. Darth Vader.

    2. Ah, the Star Wars fans. ;) Well, I did include Walter Donovan, and he's in Star Wars (General Veer) so does that count? ;) I'm actually not much of a Star Wars fan (don't kill me) and I prefer using an Indiana Jones bad guy. Donovan has always been one of my favorite villains. So I chose him instead of a Star Wars one. Sorry 'bout that! :)
      Glad you liked the post! I think the second one will come out next week.

    3. Actually, I'm not totally in love with it. I just enjoy it but when I think of bad guys...they are the first to come to mind!

      Can't wait for the next one!


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