Hello boys and girls, your friendly neighborhood Ravager here to give you all a few tips on how to write compelling villains for your heroes. This is a part of Irishlad's How to Write Fan-Fiction project, so here I am offering my help. Hopefully, with the following guide, I can inspire one or two of you to create truly awesome villains.
Now, every hero needs their villains. This is a fact. Without villains to stop, heroes would be out of a job, after all. It's like light and shadow; one can't exist without the other. Villains are what make a story interesting. They provide the challenges for your heroes to overcome. But what makes a good villain? What makes a reader sit back and say "wow, that was epic"? Read on to find out.
1. A villain needs to be believable and have motives. I can't stress this enough, and it's my number one rule for a reason. A villain with no motivation, no reason for doing what they're doing, is not an interesting villain. It's a plot device. No one is evil for the sake of being evil. There are actions and reactions in a character's life that makes them kill, or maim, or steal, or rape, or torture. They didn't just wake up one day and decide to go around shooting people because they were bored. Something had to have happened in order to turn them into a villain. It could be something as simple as just wanting to be powerful. Hey, wanting power is a motive. It's a simple motive, but still a motive. But no one is realistically going to try and destroy the world for the sake of just destroying the world. People don't work that way.
2. Make them relatable. The previous point leads into this one. I find that the most compelling and interesting villains (usually) are the ones you can relate with, ones you can understand. I'm a big fan of the sympathetic villain. Maybe he wasn't always such a bad guy. Maybe he had a family he cared about. Maybe he was an upstanding citizen. Maybe, at some low point in his life, he lost everything. Something changed him, made him snap. Something pushed him over the edge and turned him into madman. The end result is a villain that can still be truly terrifying, but that the reader can also identify with. This creates not just an interesting villain, but a rich, deep, three dimensional character. Take Mr. Freeze as an example. Way back in the day, he used to just be some rogue scientist with a freeze gun. Sure, it might make for a fun encounter or two, but let's face it, there isn't much to keep you hooked. Enter Paul Dini, who radically revamped his origins in Batman: The Animated Series. Now, Freeze became a man who longed to save his dying wife. He became more of a victim, both of injustice and of his own mind, rather than a straight villain. There's a reason that fans loved this rendition of Mr. Freeze, and why it became canon. It's because he wasn't just a two dimensional villain that people couldn't care less about, anymore. He became a deep, tragic, three dimensional character that people could understand and relate to, and to this day remains one of my favorite villains because of this. Now, granted, there are exceptions to this. You can still have a Joker type character, and it can work phenomenally. You simply need to take extra care when creating that type of villain.
3. Don't overpower your villains. Give them flaws. This holds true for villains the same it does for heroes, though for some different reasons. While having a villain who is all powerful and can smack around super heroes like it's their job seems like it's awesome (and yes, it can be), making him or her too powerful or perfect creates problems. It can lead to rushed or deus ex machina endings that make readers roll their eyes. If a villain is handing the heroes their asses on a consistent basis, and there's absolutely nothing they can do to stop him, it can make the ultimate victory against said villain seemingly come out of nowhere. You don't want readers crying bullsh*t about the ending to your final confrontation. This is one of the reasons why I absolutely despise Superboy Prime. They made him so goddamn powerful, so incredibly unstoppable, that any victory over him in the end seemed utterly stupid and unbelievable (other reasons include the fact that he comes off as a whiny eight year old, even when he was supposed to be this big tragic figure. Yeah, didn't work at all). At the same time, however, your villains need to be a believable challenge for your hero. It's doubtful that someone like your average mob boss is going to make for a convincing challenge to someone like Superman (I mean, I guess you could make it work, but it would be pretty difficult). It's all about finding a good balance in relation to the power and ability of your own hero or heroes.
4. Naming is important. Sure, it's 'just' a name, but a name is how people come to identify characters outside of the flashy costumes. You should take as much care in naming your villains as you do your heroes. That being said, Your villain doesn't need to have a name that would make people run in the opposite direction. They don't need a name like Dr. Doom, or Professor Strange to be a villain. They're people just like everyone else and have normal names. Exceptions, of course, include aliases, and it's likely that, the bigger the ego, the bigger and flashier the super villain name, but still it isn't necessary. In my own fan-fiction (maybe you've heard of it. Check it out!), Ravager's most frequently recurring villain went by the name of Jeremiah Belmont. It's not a bad name, it flows off the tongue, and could certainly be seen as a cool name. But you know what he was referred to 95% of the time? Jerry. That's it, just Jerry. It's a simple, real name. No big alias, no attempt at create something super sinister to call himself, none of that. He was just Jerry. But he didn't need a big scary name to be a villain. He was conniving, he was intelligent, he knew how to push Ravager's buttons, how to get under her skin, how best to torment her. He didn't need a name like 'Dr. Evil' to break her down on numerous occasions. Let a villain's actions convey how big of a threat he is, not his name. If you do it right, then that will be plenty.
Types of Villains
1. The Physical Challenge: This one is simple enough. This villain provides a test of physical prowess for your hero. Like Batman vs. Bane, or Superman vs. Doomsday, or Wonder Woman vs. Cheetah, the ultimate altercation between your hero and this villain will likely end up being some sort of brawl in which the hero must triumph over the villain through combat. This is certainly never a bad confrontation to have. It provides action for the readers, through hopefully well conveyed fight sequences, and can provide some real fun, entertaining slug fests. The only downside is that it's, again, really very simple. They fight and someone wins, there isn't much more to it than that. Sure you can mix things up through strategy and planning and such, but in the end it's still a fight.
2. The Mental Challenge: My personal favorite, this villain either doesn't need to combat the hero physically, or does not have the ability to do so. Instead, they use their wits to gain an advantage. They plan, they scheme, and they can be downright terrifying, even more so than someone who can snap you like a twig. They know how to get into the hero's head, they know how to manipulate, how to control, how to cause psychologically torment, and how to make things go exactly the way they want. Like Batman vs, the Riddler, or Superman vs, Lex Luthor, these types of altercations can provide excellent suspense, and forces the hero to solve problems in ways other than just punching them in the face. The downside, of course, is that there tends to be less action here, with the probable lack of a big fight scene to cap things off. Of course, such a thing can certainly still be worked in. You do that, and you get the best of both worlds.
3. The Organization: You've seen it dozens of times, the shady organization that attempts to gain power through illegal means. Sometimes it's a small organization, maybe a local company trying to get a leg up on the competition, and sometimes it's a much larger organization with much more sinister intentions. Whatever the case, this type of villain tends to stack the odds against your hero. After all, your hero is a single person (in most cases), trying to take down and expose an entire organization, one that could have the police paid off, could have eyes and ears everywhere, could have super powered individuals of their own, and could very easily turn your hero's investigation into a nightmare. This type of villain should be used sparingly, though, because otherwise it creates the feeling that half the world's organizations are evil, which is not only tiring but also unrealistic.
4. The Global Threat: There are a lot of different ways you can go about this one. Something has threatened the entire world's well-being and needs to be stopped or else most of the earth's population suffers as a result. This could be an alien invasion, a killer virus, sentient machines taking over, or an extreme extension of the above organization. Whatever the case, the stakes are near their highest, with the entire world in danger of being wiped out and life as everyone knows it changed forever. More often than not, this will require a whole team of heroes to tackle, which can make for some very exciting team ups and epic battles. But again, this should be used sparingly, unless you want 'Save The World Wednesdays' as part of your hero's weekly schedule.
The Cosmic Threat: the stakes are the highest they can go now. No longer is just a single planet in danger here, but the entire universe or more. I have little experience writing cosmic anything, so I'll be brief here. Unless your stories focus entirely in cosmic events, like Green Lanterns or something, this should probably be used most sparingly of all. It can be rather difficult to come up with a reason or a villain that could be causing a threat on such a large scale. Also, because the scale of the threat is so large, so is the scale of the story, which can be a daunting task to accomplish and can easily be flubbed up. If you're attempting something this large, make sure you do it right and make sure you take time to think it through. Who or what is causing a universe wide threat? How can your heroes possibly stop it? You need to have things thought through ahead of time here more than ever.
The Archenemy: Every hero needs their villains. This is a fact. Another truth, I believe, is that every hero needs their archvillain, the one person that gets under their skin the most, the one person who consistently gives them their toughest challenges, both physical and psychological. This is the villain that, above all else, knows how to push your hero's buttons to a T. What makes a good archenemy? Simply put, this villain is a foil of your hero, their antithesis. Everything that your hero stands for, his archenemy stands for everything but. Also, things are never just same old, same old between them, no. This isn't your hero taking down just another baddie. Make things personal. Has this villain gone after your hero? Maybe the hero's loved ones? Has he hurt your hero before? Physically? Emotionally? Psychologically? Ideally, it should be all of the above. When a confrontation between hero and villain is personal, it takes things to an entirely different level. It makes the interaction stronger, it makes the reader care more about the outcome, and makes for truly memorable moments.