Uncategorized · Villains · Writing Advice

Villains’ Fortnight: What We Can Learn From Our Favourite Villains

In this next installment of Villains’ Fortnight, we explore we lessons can be learnt from our favourite villains in film, TV, books and comics.

Loki (Marvel Cinematic Universe)

Loki is different from most of the other villains on this list, while always a trickster with a silver tongue he didn’t start off with evil in mind. His spiral started with jealousy and finding out about his true parentage. Throughout the first Thor film, he was emotional, and it was this vulnerability that let the audience connect with him in a way they rarely had with a villain before. He took a darker turn in the Avengers and a more comedic turn in the Dark World, but viewers were already in love with him, they loved his humour, his tricks and his vulnerability, even if he was the bad guy. So what can we learn from this? Look back at your villain and their motivations, what made them who they are. Don’t make them afraid to show their emotions. Not only does it make them relatable and it easier for the audience to understand their actions, but chances are your villain is human and unless we’re dealing with a psychopath they have emotions too.

Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians)

101 Dalmations was written with a child audience in mind, hence the rather ‘on the nose’ name of the villain is appropriate. But aside from her name, what makes her character so memorable? 1. Her distinctive dress sense and looks: her obsession with the dalmations pattern and black and white colour scheme is a key feature for her character. The lesson here is: a memorable character needs a quirk or a trait that stands out. 2. Fashion: that’s all Cruella cares about, and this is made perfectly clear from the start. It’s important for the audience to know want motivates the villain, what they really want and then to see the story unfold as we watch or read about the lengths the villain is willing to go to in order to get what they want. In this case, Cruella is so memorable for her blatant lack of concern or care for the lives of the dalmations.

Klaus Mikaelson (The Originals)

What makes this character so loveable? He is not afraid of stepping across the line to get what he wants, and sometimes he goes too far – pushing the only ones that still care for him away. And yet, beneath his tough exterior, Klaus has a soft spot – for his daughter, for the ones he loves and in his mind, he thinks that by portraying himself as a monster and pushing everyone away, he can stop them from getting hurt. As an audience, we can see both sides of the story – how the other characters perceive him, and how he perceives himself. We can empathise with both sides, and yet he still has a sense of unpredictability about him. The audience is never quite sure what he is going to choose, and this keeps the audience interested. One more important to lessons to all villains out there: make deaths short and quick, don’t waste time explaining why and what you are doing, you don’t want to give them time to escape. Just rip their heads off. We see his emotions clearly and he struggles with them constantly even if he isn’t afraid to take lives. 

Jamie Moriarty (Elementary)

Jamie Moriarty proves more than one thing. Not only does she effortless prove that gender doesn’t matter where villains are concerned, but she isn’t written any differently than a male version would be (minus the romance with Sherlock). This is a thing too many people forget when writing female villains. They do not need to be written any differently than their male counterparts yet you can still recognise the difference between them. For example, Jamie sometimes has a man pretend to be her when she feels a client might struggle with her gender, ‘as if men have a monopoly on murder’.

Both Jamie and her hero, Sherlock, are both geniuses on a level of intellect far greater than any other, but Jamie at times is often even smarter than Sherlock. She finds him predictable, and it was an unpredictable element (Joan Watson) that brought about he downfall. Your hero doesn’t need to be the one to bring your villain down alone. Making them both smart like in any incarnation of Sherlock and Moriarty lead to incredibly interactions between the two characters and an amazing game of wits. Sometimes your villain might be your heroes opposite, other times they may just be two sides of the same coin, so closely matched that it becomes difficult to see who will win in the end.

Joffrey Baratheon (A Song of Ice and Fire)

What worked best for Joffrey Baratheon as a villain was how hateable he was. If you have an annnoying twat for a king you’re bound to have people hate him, especially when his motto is pretty much “the King can do as he likes!”. Spoilt rotten to the core, people were more than happy to see him die. But after his departure from the series people still missed him, because he was a character that people genuinely loved to hate and not having someone to despise wasn’t hardly as fun. There’s a trick to fining the right middle ground, between a villain people hate and a villain that people love to hate. Usually people will advise you to give your villains redeeming qualities, and that’s how you make someone love them but in the case of villains people love to hate that isn’t how it works. Joffrey has absolutely zero redeeming qualities.

Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter)

The defining feature for Dolores Umbridge is the contrast. She was supposed to be on the good side, a member of the Ministry of Magic, she was supposed to help return order to the Wizarding World, but she took this to the extreme. Her rule enforcing consisted of making more rules, giving cruel punishments to those who broke the rules and from this, she became a new evil that was different to Voldemort’s and one that is even more hated than the main villain himself. She likes to wear pink woolly clothing with accessories and hats, and adorns her room with cats but beneath all of that sweetness is a toxic and yet cowardly woman. From her fear to accept that Voldemort had returned rather than helping the children to learn how to protect themselves, she thinks that by denying Voldemort’s existence and punishing Harry Potter, she can stop the evil from returning. However, in so doing, she crosses the boundary between what is good and what is evil and she becomes an unforgettable villain.

Doctor Doom (Marvel)

The problem with analysing traits from comic characters is the constant flux in their incarnations. Doctor Doom was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1962, he’s been floating around Marvel for over 50 years. Doctor Doom has been described as one of the most intelligent humans in the Marvel Universe and it is this intellect that makes it so difficult for the heroes to defeat him. He has minor magical abilities but when coupled with his intelligence this can have world changing consequences, or saving. In the current arc, Secret Wars, Doom saved the world and created a new Universe which he became the God of. New sides of his character were shown, while he saved the world and seemed to rule justly by the side of hero Doctor Strange. However, he showed that when his powers were threatened he would do anything a kill anyone – even those he called friends – to maintain his status as a God. Intelligence is a powerful tool for a villain and in many cases can leave the hero outmatched, this makes the process of defeating the villain even more challenging. Seeing Secret Wars shows a lot from the perspective of Doom as well. We know what secrets his keeping and become involved  with the reveal.

Harley Quinn (DC)

So how was a character created for a one-shot episode of an animated series, that ended up being so loved she was actually transferred to the comic universe? Always portrayed as ditzy we still can’t say that Harley was stupid, she studied Psychology and got a placement as an intern at a criminal mental institution that houses likes of the Joker. It doesn’t sound like an easy internship to get. They clearly screwed up the psych evaluation because it wasn’t long until she was helping the Joker escape. But in the show and in the comics she a welcoming breath of fresh air, rolling in to make you laugh even if she is one of the bad guys. She’s helped the good guys out when she became part of the Suicide Squad, she got out of her abusive relationship with the Joker and now she’s found love with Poison Ivy. People were invested in her character and her relationship. Just because your characters a villains doesn’t mean they can’t be light-hearted, it doesn’t mean they can’t fall in love and it doesn’t mean they can’t do things that are good.

In this analysis of what you can learn from our favourite villains we’ve covered the two main ways to make you audience love your villain. You can simply make them love them (ie. Loki, Klaus Mikaelson and Harley Quinn) or you can make them love to hate them (Cruella de Vil, Joffrey Baratheon and Dolores Umbridge). Look at your villain and what characteristics they consist of. Don’t forget they are human (probably or not…) and that they have emotions too, it’s okay to reveal these. Maybe they won’t reveal these to the hero but they certainly will in private. Everyone has a motivation and evil for the sake of evil isn’t good enough. You can make them funny, likeable or even more intelligent than the hero. And if you want your audience to love to hate them, don’t even consider any redeeming qualities, make them an annoying brat or someone like Umbridge, who thinks that she is in the right even though her character portrays every adult you had who told you off for little things back when you were a child. Your villain should be as broad and widely developed as your hero, because they’re people as well.

– Elizabeth and Nadia


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