The seventh episode of the “Writing Excuses” podcast is about Villains (and Anti-Heroes, to a lesser extent). I like what everyone had to say about villains, and I agree with a lot of what was said. One of the points that I especially liked was how villains were described as believing themselves to be the heroes in their own stories. Flaws came up again, and back-references to heroes.

When I sit down to write a villain, I go through a more-or-less identical process as I would for writing a hero, and it usually comes down to how the villain failed to actually be the hero. I previously mentioned that it should be possible that a hero should fail and still be a hero (I think sometimes they’re an even greater hero for continuing to fight through failure) and a villain is basically someone who stopped fighting.

Maybe they turned to the dark side, maybe they were corrupted, maybe they stopped doing the right thing, or maybe their motivation changed. At whatever point they made their choice — and they may not necessarily make it for themselves, sometimes it’s made for them and you have a truly hopeless villain — and the story is about someone else and not them.

You can get a great deal of drama and conflict out of making your villains just as sympathetic and deserving as your heroes, and it’s a great way to get people to come back and ask “what if?” It’s a great way to keep people thinking about your story after it’s ended, to write fan fiction (“fix fics”) and fan art, and to keep interest high after you’ve moved on to the next project. The villain doesn’t have to be a bad guy.

As I was saying about allowing heroes to fail to generate more conflict, it’s okay to allow the villain victory. It isn’t strictly necessary that the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose, because the reverse can be very compelling, and there are plenty of examples of great stories where the bad guys win all the time. I’m not going to list them, though, you can find them yourselves.