3 Tips for How to Write a Bad Guy Who Transforms Your Story

Why the Devil Makes a Boring Bad GuySince the whole point of a bad guy is that he’s bad, you’re first thought may be to make your antagonist as despicable as possible. But stop right there. Let me show you how to write a bad guy who’s all the more interesting for not going completely over the Dark Side

How to Write a Bad Guy: Don’t Choose “the Devil”

As you’re searching around for the most evil bad guy you think of you, you may quite reasonably find yourself asking, “Who’s more despicable than the devil—or an ‘antichrist’?” Ergo, who could possibly make a better bad guy than someone who is evil through and through?

Many popular books and movies take advantage of both these entities, displaying the ultimate evil, and thereby forcing their protagonists to go head to head with the ultimate villain.

When figuring out how to write bad guys in your stories, the devil may not be the best choice.

Sounds like the making of a thrilling story, right? Eh, don’t be so sure.

3 Ways Not to Write a Compelling Supervillain

As a matter of fact, “the devil”–or any ultimate evil–makes a lousy bad guy. This is so for a couple of reasons.

1. Supreme Evil Is… Boring

Just as supreme goodness in a hero is boring, so is supreme evil.

Bad guys are people too, and just like the good guy, they’re much more interesting and compelling if they come complete with shades of gray. In life, we never find great evil without some spark of goodness anymore than we find great goodness without some flaw.

2. Readers Already Know the End: “The Devil” Always Loses

Despite the fact that a devil-like character seems to bring insurmountable odds to the table, he ironically only increases the reader’s assurance that the hero will be beat him.

There’s always the possibility that a human bad guy will triumph. (After all, they triumph all the time.) But the devil victorious is simply unthinkable. Readers know, without a doubt, that the good guy is going to find some impressive (and probably unbelievable) way of besting this supreme evil.

So much for plot twists.

3. Devils vs. Angels: Readers Lose

The fact that the bad guy represents utter evil too often means the good guy, by default, is utterly in the right. The opportunities for internal conflict (although certainly still present) are much less likely to be utilized. As a result, the story suffers thematically as well.

Although these types of antagonists can be done well, remember that even the likes of Darth Vader had a spark of goodness left in his heart. And he was more interesting because of it.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! As you consider how to write bad guys that are every bit as interesting as your good guys, what are you doing to keep them relatable? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Hmmmmm……
    Thoughtful

  2. Have you read Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels Trilogy? Darkness, humour and a damn good story. A distinct spin on who Saetan is.

  3. So, what do you do when your antagonist actually is Satan?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Make him a three-dimensional character who isn’t 100% evil, has a shot at winning, and faces a flawed protagonist.

  4. I apologize if this is repetitive. I did not read all of the comments, as there are many, which speaks to the excellence of the post. There was a good, but possibly too long, article published about this topic in the March/April 2016 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m not familiar with Writer’s Chronicle. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

  5. I think my antagonist is a corporation. Should I create a character that is sort of the mouthpiece of the corporation so I have an antagonist with corporeal form?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, it’s usually best when you can create a specific personal antagonist to represent a larger antagonistic force.

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