Powerful Villains
I believe most people on this beautiful planet are good. We go about our daily lives while trying to do the right thing, help people, and take the blame for our actions. Yet, a few people are less than ideal, and an even smaller number are truly evil. Some examples would be The WWII Axis leaders Ivan the Terrible, Saddam Hussain, the North Korean Kim dynasty, serial killer Jeffery Dahmer, and cult leader David Koresh.
How do the bad people feel about their actions? Let’s examine an aggressive driver that constantly places others in danger. There would be incidents, and their mind would develop a defense mechanism. “The rest of my life is great; this is my one escape.” Complete denial, “Everybody drives bad. I’m no exception.” A deflection, “I’m a skilled driver. Nobody else can drive.” A defensive argument, “I’m protecting myself from other drivers.” Or a deferral, “The rest of my life is great, and this is my one escape.”
Fictional villains are in a different class because their purpose is to entertain. Several examples come to mind: the crazy book fan in Stephen King novel Misery, Darth Vader from Star Wars, Joker from Batman, Hans Gruber from Die Hard, and Agent Smith from The Matrix.
Writers add villains to give the moral character a reason to fight, add tension, advance the plot, or make the excellent character look even better. These characters span the range from slightly annoying to beyond contempt. Selfish motives, anger, aggression, laziness, a love of inflicting pain and a lack of empathy define them.
There is a big difference between a fictional villain and a real-life person. They must have a clearly defined motivation. Readers need to know why a person is the way they are, or they will be confused. The backstory can be a simple “he had an awful childhood” or an entire chapter dedicated to their history with the other characters.
In my first book, Interviewing Immortality. My villain appears as a dominatrix serial killer. Later, I reveal that she is not truly evil (at least in her mind). Her level of violence is far above average, and her attitude contains a thin sliver of compassion. By the end of the book, the reader is not fully convinced that she is a good person, but they clearly understand her motives.
What about crazy people? My advice is to use the characters sparingly. For example, in my fifth book, Kim and Gabe Thrive (now in the writing phase), my main character is pumping gas when a random jerk insults her. She insults the person back and drives away with no further interaction.
In this brief encounter, I used this villain to show the main character is strong, specifically as a mother who does not accept insults, which would be an excellent example to her daughter. It would be necessary to provide a full background if there was a need for further interaction.
What about a supernatural story where characters are mean all the time? Say a dystopian reality. The author would have to lay a different foundation for this type of story. In crazy world, everybody is a jerk.
What about a supervillain like the type that James Bond would encounter? There must be logic behind the villain’s actions (usually money). In this extreme case, the reader does not necessarily relate to the villain, but they respect their logic, even if it is vastly flawed. In my humble writings, I try to stay from super/extreme characters because I have never interacted with such people, which makes it difficult to imagine such a character.
What about a real-life supervillain, Saddam Hussain, or Jeffery Dahmer. Reality can be muddy, and readers need clarity. James Bond would go after the supervillain in a fictional story, but the media would have over-the-top coverage until the world’s armies stopped Saddam Hussain or Jeffery Dahmer.
Some villains do not fit the traditional mold, like the anti-hero. Or the super nice person who makes us feel terrible. Characters like this are in their class, and their motivations are complex. In such a chase, it is essential to have an entire backstory, or the reader will put down the book.
Where does this all lead us? A good villain must have a clear foundation, a rational motive, and be relatable. The writer needs an obvious goal for the villain to move the plot along. By the end of the story, the reader should have fully understood their motives, which will allow them to tolerate their awful actions.
What about me? Am I a villain? I try hard to live a good life, treat people respectfully, and help where possible. However, I have room to grow and know of several colossal failures. If I were to be honest with myself, I am a B+.
Wait a minute. I write books that contain stories about bad people. They torture, kill, and are not productive members of society. Does that mean I am in denial of my true self? Denial is the most significant trait of a villain. Hmm. Something to think about.

You’re the best -Bill
September 13, 2018 Updated August 27, 2023
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