10 Behaviors for Better Villains
Have you ever read a story that didn’t have some kind of villain?
It’s tough to write a griping story without someone that provokes conflict. That makes it a challenge when an author like me has has a tendency to develop too much empathy for my characters to make them real villains. For example, Liza in Cinnamon Bourbon and Deception was supposed to cause problems but she had too much spunk and refused to cooperate. You’ll see more about her in the future, but for now, back to villains ...
Both bad and good characters need to exhibit a mix of good and bad quirks to make them interesting, but villains have evil motivations as well. Consciously observing and incorporating negative behaviors from real life as well as fiction helps to make my intended “villains” more viable and “heroes” more believable – and sometimes add a bit of humor.
Recent events have been great for this, so I’ve complied a list for my future use.
Which would make a character most irritating or untrustworthy? Downright unlikable? Take a look through the list below and vote by leaving a comment below.
1) Lying -- A character can get caught in a lie and then become caught in a web of further lies. This can be funny if it’s a silly lie -- many sitcoms are based on this. George Castanza was always getting caught up in his lies. But when a character an expert at lying, telling stories and distorting facts to another character’s disadvantage, they’re on their way to being a villain.
2) Denial and Blame Shifting -- Even when there is clear proof or recorded evidence, the characters lies without flinching. Nothing is ever the character’s fault. When caught in a lie or other situation where they are at culpable, they find a way to blame others. “No, sir, I didn’t kill the chicken”, he said, dusting a feather off his pants. “It must have been that immigrant you hired, I’ve heard people say he’s always eyeing the chickens.”
3) Never admitting they are wrong -- When denial and blame deflection doesn’t work, villains rarely admit guilt or say they are sorry, and if they are forced to, they say it in a way that’s really not an apology. “I am sorry – sorry I ever let him talk me into playing this game in the first place.”
4) Switching the Topic -- This is a sophisticated tactic where the character, in order to avoid having to answer for something they’ve done, will change the topic or reframe the situation. They attempt to confuse or humiliate other characters -- to keep them preoccupied, confused or put them on the defensive.
For example, a slight suggestion that changes the character’s original plan would be met with “you are always criticizing, big stuff” or “your face has big brown smudge on it”, or “is this like the time you told me to get off at the first stop?”.
5) Projecting -- This is a tactic in which the character accuses another of doing exactly what they are being accused of.
For example, a dishonest character may start a rumor to label another character as dishonest to deflect from their own lying. “I don’t know if it’s true, but I think Jimmy cheats at poker.” He said as he slipped the ace into his sleeve.
Or when they exhibit horrible behavior to someone and they are confronted, they’ll act insulted and attack the assertive character, accusing them of not being “nice”, claiming to be the victim.
6) Generalizing and Exaggerating -- The character can use words like “it’s a disaster,” “this is tremendous,” “we are in a big, fat, ugly bubble,” “it’s unbelievable”. He/she also loves to use the language of “everyone” or “many people” as in “everyone tells me she’s a witch” – a claim that is very difficult to prove or disprove or fact-check.
This trait can range from humorous to abusive, depending on how the character relates to others in the story.
7) Yelling and Interrupting -- A voice can be a tool of violence in a scene. A villain or bad character can use their voice a weapon in order to ensure that they are the ones heard most. They will confront anyone who tries to stand up to him/her by raising their volume. This is particularly effective on soft spoken or risk-adverse characters. If volume alone doesn’t do it, expert interruptions combined with some of the techniques above can confuse and even overpower the other characters.
8) Fear-Mongering -- A character can attempt to provoke fear, exaggerating the worse case scenarios, gross generalizations and misperceptions. This is a very powerful tactic of manipulation, as it is very hard to stabilize an atmosphere of terror. Think of characters that incite lynch mobs, genocide, or demonize people who are “different”. The worst villain incites the fear, but steps aside to let the mob do his dirty work for him.
9) Body Shaming / Belittling -- Body-shaming is a tactic that can cause another character pain. When directed at a vulnerable area, they may be too humiliated to speak, advocate, or appear in public. Belittling is psychologically making the person feel small or unworthy. It can be subtle: “Sure I’m interested in your little project”.
10) Physical intimidation – using size or proximity to another character to make them uncomfortable or threaten them. He leaned over her shoulder to see what she was writing, his thick hand resting heavily on her upper arm, moving toward her chest.
On the lighter side
All of these can be bad, but can these characteristics be humorous rather than abusive? When mixed with other good traits and used lightly, a character who lies, denies or generalizes can be funny, especially if they don't mean to hurt others. But it depends on their relationships. If the character has or wants real power over the other characters for evil purposes, combining several of these traits can result in a certified villain.
Do you agree? Please vote and comment below.
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Insights on writing, characters, humor and other tidbits from the author of the "Scoops and Schemes" series of novels.
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